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Recasting the Brahmin in Medieval Mithila:

Origins of Caste Identity among the Maithil Brahmins of North Bihar


Anshuman Pandey

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment

of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
in the University of Michigan

Doctoral Committee
Emeritus Professor Thomas R. Trautmann, Chair
Professor Madhav Deshpande
Professor Judith T. Irvine
Professor Mrinalini Sinha
Professor Ronald G. Suny
© 2014 Anshuman Pandey
All rights reserved

To my mother and father

Krishna and Satya Sheel Pandey

for making me who I am

and to my grandfather

Ramroop Pandey

for teaching me about who I am


This dissertation seeks to satisfy the many curiosities that motivated my study of the history

of India over two decades ago. It all started with the The Wonder That Was India by A. L.

Basham. My father found that book for me on one of our many Saturday afternoon trips to

the public library. The more I read Basham, the more questions I had about India. My father

patiently explained whatever he could and my grandfather would address the finer details.

My interest in India was further peaked at University of Washington where I learned Indian

history and culture from Professor Frank Conlon. In Seattle, my eyes were further opened

to the culture of India when I studied Hindi with Professor Michael Shapiro, Sanskrit with

Professor Richard Salomon, medieval Hindi with Professor Heidi Pauwels, and Urdu with

Dr. Naseem Hines. At that time I wondered whether the intensive course in Bengali that

I studied with the late Professor Carol Salomon was worth the daily six hours during the

summer, but little did I know how useful it would be when I stumbled across Maithili when

I returned many years later as a graduate student at the Jackson School of International

Studies. It was there that my focus on language and the politics of language in India took

shape. Professor Reşat Kasaba from the Near and Middle East Studies program taught me

research methodology in the social sciences and Professor K. Sivaramakrishnan provided a

solid grounding in the field of modern South Asian studies. My efforts were further guided

by Professor Anand Yang, Professor Paul Brass, and Professor Shapiro, all of whom advised

me on my master’s thesis regarding the politics of the Maithili language.

I had planned to return to my profession in information technology after my master’s

program, but Professor Lisa Mitchell convinced me otherwise. She advised me to pursue my

studies and suggested that the University of Michigan would be a good place to do so, and

handed me a copy of Aryans and British India by Thomas R. Trautmann. That interaction

changed the course of my interests in India. I did not realize the extent to which Professor

Trautmann would reshape and expand my ideas about India and the topics I wanted to study.

This dissertation unknowingly took shape as an essay written for a seminar on kinship taught

by Professor Trautmann and Professor Gillian Feeley-Harnik. I never would have imagined

the lure of ‘kinship’. I went to Ann Arbor wanting to write about language, nationalism, and

politics in the 20th century and somehow found myself writing about genealogy, kinship,

and caste in the 14th century. But, I did manage to study nationalism with Professor Ronald

Suny and linguistic anthropology with Professor Judith Irvine, both of whom showed me

ways of expanding my interests in these fields beyond the boundaries of the present. I

never imagined I would ever have to use the Sanskrit I learned years ago, so I am thankful

to Professor Madhav Deshpande for kindly helping me to remember. Professor Mrinalini

Sinha, who came to Ann Arbor right before I began my research, was a source of inspiration

and a treasure trove of knowledge on Bihar, and encouraged my studies of Bihar beyond

the scope of politics.

My friends in India also opened my eyes to the depth of history and culture of Bi-

har. Professor Hetukar Jha graciously spoke with me for hours about Mithila and provided

me access to numerous invaluable sources and contacts. The staff at the Maharajadhiraja

Kameshwar Singh Kalyani Foundation in Darbhanga eagerly opened their doors and cab-

inets to me, as did the people at the Bihar State Archives in Patna. Gajendra Thakur of

New Delhi provided me with digitized copies of the genealogical records of the Maithil

Brahmins. My research in India would not have been as joyous or complete were it not for

Tejakar Jha, who took me to Darbhanga and shared his personal knowledge and insights

regarding Raj Darbhanga and all things Maithil. His own admiration for the history and

culture of Mithila was itself an important primary source of motivation.

This dissertation would not have been possible were it not for Professor Trautmann.

When I arrived in Ann Arbor for a visit before beginning my graduate studies, he asked me

how I became interested in the history of India. I told him that it was because of Basham.

He replied that he studied with Basham in London. I then informed him that it was his own

book on ‘Aryans’ that inspired me to pursue doctoral studies at Michigan. I am honored to

have been taught, indirectly and directly, by scholars of this great parampara. But, I offer

my apologies to them, for in every bushel there is certainly a bad apple. Over the years

Professor Trautmann has patiently endured my intellectual and geographical wanderings

and somehow maintained confidence in me despite my long gaps in communication. “Eyes

on the prize!” he constantly advised. I may have blinked a few times along the way, but

it’s now almost within reach.

Table of Contents

Dedication ii

Acknowledgments iii

List of Figures viii

List of Tables ix

Abstract x

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 The Rebirth of a Brahmin 24

1.1 Perceiving a Brahmin through the Senses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
1.2 Ideology of Genealogical Identity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
1.3 Genealogy and Marriage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
1.4 Genealogy and Personhood . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
1.5 Genealogical Foundations of Jāti . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
1.6 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66

Chapter 2 The Making of a Maithil 72

2.1 Crossing the Sadānīra . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
2.2 Formation of a Territorial Community . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
2.3 Ideology of the Territorial Lineage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
2.4 Lineage and Land . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96
2.5 Lineage and Exclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108
2.6 Brahmins and the State . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
2.7 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117

Chapter 3 The Best of Brahmins 124

3.1 Brahmins before Pañjī Prabandha . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125
3.2 Recognizing the Status of a Brahmin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
3.3 Status and Marriage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
3.4 Status and Personhood . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156
3.5 Origins of Lineage Rank . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163

3.6 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166

Chapter 4 The Brahmin as King 169

4.1 The Start of Brahmin Rule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
4.2 The Nature of Brahmin Rulership . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 177
4.3 The Second Phase of Brahminical Rule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187
4.4 Brahmin Kings and Brahminical Society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199
4.5 The End of Brahmin Rule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200

Chapter 5 The ‘Conundrum’ of Brahmin Identity 207

5.1 The Tension Between King and Brahmin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 210
5.2 Tensions of Kingship and Kinship . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215
5.3 King’s Control of Lineage Rank . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 220
5.4 King’s Control of Individual Rank . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223
5.5 The King and His Marriage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 226
5.6 Internalizing the Conundrum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 227
5.7 Sustaining the ‘Conundrum’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229
5.8 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 231

Conclusion 239

Bibliography 244

List of Figures

1.1 The sixteen ancestors enumerated in the uteṛha pañjī . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70

1.2 Maithil Brahmin kinship categories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71

4.1 The Oini lineage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 203

4.2 The Oinivara rulers of Tirhut . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204
4.3 The Oinivara rulers of Champaran . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205
4.4 The Khandavala rulers of Tirhut . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 206

List of Tables

2.1 The śākhā, gotra, and pravara of the Maithil Brahmins. . . . . . . . . . . . 122
2.2 Classification of active Maithil Brahmin mūla-s according to gotra. . . . . . 123

3.1 Thirteen original Shrotriya mūla-s. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153

3.2 Established mūla-s of the Maithil Brahmins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 168

5.1 Shrotriya Shrenis with the Laukit and Mula-grama . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 234

5.2 Yogya Shrenis with the Laukit and Mula-grama . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235


Recasting the Brahmin in Medieval Mithila:

Origins of Caste Identity among the Maithil Brahmins of North Bihar


Anshuman Pandey

Very little is known about the historical origins of Brahmin caste communities in India. The

present study attempts to explain the origins of caste identity among the Maithil Brahmin

community of north Bihar, taking advantage of exceptionally rich primary sources main-

tained by the community over a period of six centuries. I examine the development of

identity of the Maithil Brahmin community through the themes of genealogy, territory, and

authority. I begin my analysis by investigating the creation of a corporate ‘Maithil’ identity

that resulted from a census of Brahmins conducted by the king of Tirhut in the 14th cen-

tury. This census formed the basis of a comprehensive genealogical record known as pañjī

prabandha, which was used for determining community identity through the enforcement

of rules of endogamy by which the purity of the Brahmin caste was maintained. Genealogy

was linked to territory by identifying a limited number of Brahmin patrilineages (called

mūla) descending from founding ancestors of particular villages. The territorial basis for

Brahmin identity in Mithila was based upon the genealogical record. So also was the au-

thority of Brahmins within the Maithil community, whose patrilineages were differentiated

into three ranked grades, which were based upon internal criteria for measuring the status

of individuals. Genealogy, territory, and authority converged to produce the fourth as-

pect of identity among the Maithil Brahmins: kingship. When North Bihar was conquered

by the Delhi Sultanate and the ruling dynasty of Tirhut fled, the Sultan appointed a high-

ranking Maithil Brahmin to rule the region. From the 14th to 20th century, two successive

Maithil Brahmin families governed Tirhut, who perpetuated the state-sponsored machinery

of Brahmin genealogy and the regulation of marriage. The rise of a Brahmin to the position

of ‘king’ further expanded the notion of ‘Maithil’ Brahmin identity by uniting the tradi-

tional tension in the relationship between Brahmin and king within the Brahmin caste. This

dissertation shows that the practical attempt to recognize an individual as a ‘Brahmin’ in

medieval Mithila led to the emergence of a renewed notion not only of ‘Maithil’ Brahmin

identity, but also expanded traditional ideas of Brahmin identity.


“Of created beings the most excellent are said to be those which are animated; of the an-

imated, those which subsist by intelligence; of the intelligent, mankind; and of men, the

Brahmins.”1 This statement from the Manu Smr̥ti portrays the Brahmin as the archetype

of the ideal human, born from the supreme being in order to fulfill dharma or the ‘sacred

law’. Simultaneously, the Brahmin is castigated as a plague upon humanity, on par with

those animated beings that subsist not so much by intelligence, as by parasitic activity:

“Blood-suckers three on earth there be, [t]he bug, the Brahman and the flea.”2 These ex-

treme portrayals of the Brahmin within Indian society also exist in the scholarly studies of

caste in India. Scholars of caste have viewed the Brahmin as the apex of the social structure

as well as the source for all of its evils. In a 19th century ethnography on caste, Jogendra

Nath Bhattacharya wrote, “The most remarkable feature in the mechanism of Hindu soci-

ety is the high position occupied in it by the Brahmans”, who “not only claim almost divine

honours as their birthright, but, generally speaking, the other classes, including the great

Ksatriya princes, and the rich Vaishya merchants readily submit to their pretensions as a

Manu Smr̥ti 1.96: भूतानां ािणनः े ाः ािणनां बिु जीिवनः । बिु म ु नराः े ा नरेष ु ा णाः तृ ाः ॥ (Jolly, Mânava
Dharma-Śâstra, 10). Translation adapted from Bühler, The Laws of Manu, 25.
Translation by H. H. Risley of a popular Hindi saying “Is dunya men tin kasai[;] Pisu, katmal, Brahman
bhai.” (The People of India, 126–127). Literally, “there are three types of butchers (or brutes) in this world,
the flea, the bedbug, and brother Brahmin”.

matter of course.”3 The position held by the Brahmin, whether through his honorable action

or through his pretensions, have nonetheless served as the standard by which other castes

are measured and by which these other castes measure themselves, a process of cultural

adapation and social mobility that M. N. Srinivas termed as ‘Sanskritization’ in the middle

of the 20th century.4 The Brahmin, however, is stripped of his cultural capital outside of

the Indian framework. Early Western investigators of caste viewed the Brahmin with sus-

picion. In the late 19th century, M. A. Sherring wrote that the primacy of the Brahmin in

the Indian social structure is a product of his “assumed sancity”, but his position remains

fixed more so because he is “[e]ndowed with an extremely subtle, rather than with a pow-

erful, mind,—which by long habit, perpetuated from age to age, and from family to family,

he has trained to the utmost keenness,—dogmatic, self-willed, pertinacious, and supremely

arrogant and vain, he has in turn encountered and beaten the intellects of all the other tribes,

and has attained the position of a victor, with whom it is considered to be hopeless infat-

uation to contend.”5 Sherring’s description of the hereditary dominance of the Brahmin is

echoed by John Wilson, who wrote that “[t]he Bráhmans, as themselves the great authors

of the preceptive parts of the Hindu Shástras, have no feeling of shame whatever in stat-

ing their pretensions and urging their prerogatives” and their “fabrications, which appear to

us so ridiculous, were intended to secure to the Bráhmans veneration and awe.”6 To these

Western scholars the Brahmin was a charlatan, who held fast unto his position in the caste

Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects, 19.
See Srinivas, Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India, 30–34 for the initial description of
‘Sanskritization’ and “A Note on Sanskritization and Westernization” for a redefinition of the concept.
Sherring, Hindu Tribes and Castes, 3.
Wilson, Indian Caste, vol. I, 23, 25.

system more for selfish and arrogant purposes than for his knowledge of the dharma and his

ability to uphold the law. Yet, despite such rather negative characterizations of the Brah-

min, Western scholars conceded that the Brahmin was certainly an important figure in the

social system of India. Wilson sums up the extreme sentiments: “There is an admiration

and approval of the Bráhman among the people, as well as much dread and distrust of him,

and contempt of him for his extravagant claims in connexion with his status and preroga-

tives.”7 From liturgical texts to popular customs, from colonial ethnographies to scholarly

studies, ‘the Brahmin’ has been the object of exhaltation and denigration.

These sources and scholars, however, portray ‘the Brahmin’ as a monolith. Who is ‘the

Brahmin’, who arouses admiration on account of his intellect as well as contempt equal to

that held towards the bedbug? Despite the attention given to ‘the Brahmin’ over two cen-

turies of scholarship on caste, there have been few very studies oriented towards explaining

‘the Brahmin’ as a historical individual and towards describing the historical origins of

Brahmin caste communities. Colonial ethnographers may be slightly forgiven for paying

more attention to the role of the Brahmin and his ‘assumed sanctity’ in the religious and

social orders of India. Indian historical records offers very little regarding the objective de-

tails of the origins and development of the historical Brahmin. The cultural understanding

of Brahmin origins, and that of the varṇa system, is itself mythical. The ‘Purūṣa Sūkta’

of the R̥gveda states that the Brahmin was formed from the mouth of the purūṣa, or pri-

mordial sacrifical man, and that the other three varṇa-s were formed from the arms, thighs,

Wilson, Indian Caste, vol. I, 35.

and feet, respectively.8 Apart from the primordial creation of Brahmins, the Indian textual

tradition acknowledges the existence of different kinds of Brahmins. But, the origin stories

among various Brahmin communities do not contain much information that can be used for

establishing an understanding about the cultural, political, and social processes by which

these communities came to be identified as distinctive caste communities. The first evi-

dence of a historical understanding about the origins of Brahmin communities appears in

a text from the 12th century ëí called the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa. The Sahyādri Khaṇḍa states

that there are ten Brahmin communities dispersed across India. These ten communities are

divided into two groups according to the geography of India. The northern group consists of

the Sārasvata, Kānyakubja, Utkala, Maithila, and Gauḍa communities, while the southern

groups consists of the Drāviḍa, Tailaṅga, Karnāṭa, Madhyadeśa, and Gurjara communities.

The Sahyādri Khaṇḍa does not offer an explanation for this classification or the basis for

grouping Brahmins in these communities. However, the groupings appear to coincide with

major cultural regions of the Indian subcontinent. Despite the absence of clear descriptions

of these communities and their constituents, the classification remained durable such that

Sanskrit texts from the 15th century assumed the classification to be authoritative. The ge-

ographical segmentation caught the attention of European colonial scholars and administra-

tors centuries later, who assumed the divisions to be an inherent aspect of Brahmin social

organization. Henry T. Colebrooke interpreted the ten-fold classification as a primordial

feature of ‘Hindu civilization’ and found in it an approach to unify geography, language,

ु ॑मासी ा॒ रा॑ज॒ ः॑ कृ ॒ तः । ऊ॒ तद॑ ॒ य ै यः॑ प॒ ां शू॒ ो अ॑जायत ॥ (Müller, Rig-Veda-

R̥gveda 10.90.12: ा॒ ॒ णो॑ऽ ॒ मख

Samhitâ, vol. IV, 291).

and ethnicity in India..9 In 1801, Colebrooke wrotes that “[t]here is reason to believe that

ten polished dialects formerly prevailed in as many different civilized nations, who occu-

pied all the fertile provinces of Hindustán and the Dekhin.”10 He found the division to be

so natural that he set forth in describing the regional languages of India “in the order in

which these Hindu nations are usually enumerated”.11 Moreover, Colebrooke stated that

the subcontinent was divided into numerous provinces and that “[e]ach of these provinces

has its peculiar dialect, which appears … to be a variety only of some one among the ten

principal idioms.”12 The association of these regions applied not only to language, but also

to the population. Colebrooke believed there was a connection between Brahmins of these

nations and the ‘dialects’ of the nations. He writes “The Sáreswata was a nation which oc-

cupied the banks of the river Sáraswatí” and the “Bráhmanas who are still distinguished by

the name of their nation, inhabit chiefly the Penjáb or Panchanada, west of the river from

which they take their appellation” and “[t]heir original language may have once prevailed

through the southern and western parts of Hindustán proper”.13 Colebrooke accepted the

authority of the classification to such an extent that he offer a critique of it, suggesting that

“I cannot hesitate in thinking that the Gurjaras should be considered as the fifth northern

nation of India, and the U’riyas should be ranked among the tribes of the Dacshin.”14 Fol-

lowing the foundation that Colebrooke had established, other Western scholars adopted the

classification and applied it towards building finer taxonomies of castes. Nearly a century
Trautmann, Aryans and British India, 146–149.
Colebrooke, “On the Sanscrit and Pracrit Languages,” 219.
Ibid., 250.
Ibid., 219.
Ibid., 229.

later when Matthew Sherring produced an ethnological survey of Indian castes, he relied

upon the same ten-nation theory in order to classify Brahmins into ten “principle tribes”

and a number of “supplementary tribes” consisting of communities that do not fit into the

traditional classification.15 Both Colebrooke and Sherring offer detailed descriptions of all

the ten nations and their languages, except for one. Colebrooke had this to say about the

territory, language, and Brahmins of the ‘Maithila’ nation:

Mait’hila, or Tirhutíya, is the language used in Mit’hílà, that is, in the Sircár of Tirhút,
and in some adjoining districts, limited however by the rivers Cusí (Causicí,) and
Gandhac (Gandhací,) and by the mountains of Népál: it has great affinity with Bengálí;
and the character in which it is written differs little from that which is employed
throughout Bengal. In Tirhút, too, the learned write Sanscrĭt in the Tirhutíya char-
acter, and pronounce it after their own inelegant manner. As the dialect of Mit’hílà has
no extensive use, and does not appear to have been at any time cultivated by elegant
poets, it is unnecessary to notice it further in this place.16

Sherring devoted much labor in order to describe the distinctions within each of the ten

major ‘tribes’ of Brahmins. But, about the Maithils, which he labelled the “Fourth Tribe of

Gaur Brahmans”, he offered the following:

This tribe is found in Tirhût, and generally throughout the northern part of Behar. Some
members of the tribe are met with in the districts of Benares, Jaunpûr, Mirzapûr, and
Allahabad; but if there be any truth in the last Census Report, not at all in the large
district of Gorakhpûr, to the north-west, although lying contiguous to it. This last
statistical statement, however, cannot be correct. A more careful inquiry would, I feel
satisfied, reveal the existence of some families of Maithilas residing in this extensive
tract. In some parts of the country, Ojha and Maithila Brahmans are considered to be
one and the same. While it is quite true, on the one hand, that all Ojhas are Maithilas. In
Benares, for instance, the term Ojha is used to designate the person called in to exorcise
evil spirits, to allay turbulent departed spirits,—who, it is supposed, work mischief in
various ways,—to destroy the power and influence of ghosts and goblins, and the like.
He is sometimes a Brahman; but he may proceed likewise from any of the other castes.
It is possible that there may be some connection between the Ojha, as thus employed,

Sherring, Hindu Tribes and Castes, 19.
Colebrooke, “On the Sanscrit and Pracrit Languages,” 225.

and the Maithila Brahmans; and further investigation might perhaps show in what it

It is unclear why Colebrooke and Sherring did not provide details about Mithila and its

Brahmins. Colonial knowledge about the Brahmins and language of Mithila would have to

await the arrival of George Abraham Grierson.

Identifying the Maithil Brahmins

Shortly after his arrival in Bihar in 1873, Grierson learned of a striking disjunction between

the language of command and the command of language in the province. His experience

with Mithila, or northern Bihar, began after he was called from his post in Bankipore, near

the capital Patna, to the town of Sitamarhi across the river Ganges in order to perform re-

lief work during the famine of 1874.18 “Many Bihar officials”, he wrote “have complained

to me of the impossibility of understanding the gáõwárí boli of the witnesses who come

into their courts.”19 The ‘impossibility’ in comprehending the ‘gáõwárí boli’, or ‘village

speech’, arose from the fact that the administrative form of Hindi taught to and used by

British officials was not commonly spoken in Bihar and differed significantly from the so-

called ‘eastern Hindi’ languages spoken across the region. It appears that his empathy for

the ‘gáõwárí boli’ grew such during his time in Sitamarhi that he wrote an essay, one of

his earliest, for the Calcutta Review titled “A Plea for the People’s Tongue” (1880). In his

‘plea’, Grierson advocated against the imposition of ‘book-Hindi’ in Bihar, stating that it

Sherring, Hindu Tribes and Castes, 71.
ñ÷ú õûû íýúíŌŌō, ‘Darbhanga’ file, Letter from Grierson to Bhola Lal Das, 2 October 1934.
Grierson, Seven Grammars, pt. I, 1.

is unspoken by the vast populace and that one of the local languages should be made the

administrative language of the province.20 It was certainly within the spirit of his ‘plea’

that Grierson was motivated to compile a grammar and vocabulary list for the language

he encountered in Sitamarhi that he would eventually call ‘Maithili’. When he published

Introduction to the Maithilí Language in 1882, he brought this rather anonymous language

of north Bihar to the attention of bureaucrats and linguists. Grierson’s determination to

connect with the common person through the medium of the latter’s native language per-

vades the grammar, from the selection of specimens drawn from folk songs and tales, to

the methodology he employed in order to ensure the fidelity of his linguistic description of

Maithili to the spoken actualities of the language. His elucidation of the common speech

was based upon sources “supplied by representatives of all classes of society, from the vil-

lage guru, who knew little more than the herd-boys he taught, to the most learned Paṇḍits

of Mithilá.”21 Grierson’s ambition of uplifting this vernacular of north Bihar “by obtaining

for it the honour of print” is further guided by the demographic circumstances of those who

speak it:

For Maithilí is a language and not a dialect. It is the custom to look upon it as an uncouth
dialect of untaught villagers, but it is in reality the native language of more than seven
and a quarter millions of people, of whom, as will be borne out by every official having
experience of North Bihár, at least five millions can neither speak nor understand either
Hindí, or Úrdú without the greatest difficulty. It differs from both Hindí and Bangálí,
both in Vocabulary and in Grammar, and is as much a distinct language from either of
them as Maráṭhí or Uṛiyá. It is a country with its own traditions, its own poets, and its
own pride in everything belonging to itself.22

Grierson, “A Plea for the People’s Tongue.”
Grierson, Introduction to the Maithilí Language, 1.
Ibid., 2.

Grierson was quite insistent upon practical necessity of encouraging knowledge of Maithili,

for far from being ‘an uncouth dialect of untaught villagers’, it is a common language spoken

across religious and national boundaries:

Maithilí is spoken by all the Hindús and Muhammadans, who inhabit the great plain
which is bounded on the North and South by the Himálayas and the Ganges, and on
the East and West by the Kośí and Gaṇḍak respectively. It is thus the native language,
not only of the 7¼ millions of North Bihár, but also of the unnumbered millions of the
Nepál Taráí, bordering on the districts of Champáran, Tirhut and Bhágalpúr.23

With the publication of the first grammar for Maithili, this language of north Bihar spoken

by “more than seven and a quarter millions of people”, by “all the Hindús and Muham-

madans” of the territory, had obtained ‘the dignity of print’. To be sure, Grierson’s admin-

istrative work in Mithila and his philological studies of Maithili brought him into contact

with ‘representatives of all classes of society’ to the extent that the bazaar he built in the

town of Madhubani was named ‘Griersonganj’ in his honor.24 Grierson wrote: “The dialect

which I have adopted as a standard is that of the Madhubaní Sub-division, which is cen-

trally situated, and which is admitted by all Bráhmaṇs to be the head-quarters of Mithilá.”25

Grierson supplied the ethnological link between Mithila, its inhabitants, and its vernacular

language that Colebrooke could not provide. He also formulated a connection between the

standard dialect of Maithili and its speakers, the Brahmins of Mithila.

The colonial desire for establishing a standard for languages and identifying speakers of

this standard can do a lot to the “the people’s tongue”. Nearly a century later, the Chief Min-

ister of Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav announced in February 1992 his decision to remove the
Grierson, Introduction to the Maithilí Language, 2.
ñ÷ú õûû íýúíŌŌō, ‘Darbhanga’ file, Letter from Grierson to William Egerton, 22 January 1908.
Grierson, Introduction to the Maithilí Language, 2.

Maithili language and its literature from the curriculum of the entrance examination for the

Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC) and to strike Maithili from the list of languages

in which the examination could be written by candidates.26 The announcement to remove

Maithili from the curriculum of the BPSC examination may appear at first glance to be the

fulfillment by Yadav of a campaign promise or a political spectacle designed as a display

of power early in his tenure as Chief Minister. This conjecture would have proved true had

Yadav’s announcement regarding Maithili faded silently without additional controversy or

consequence. However, the announcement in February 1992 was merely the first step. Ya-

dav ardently kept his promise and pushed forth with his agenda against Maithili. Shortly

after the revision of the BPSC curriculum, a writ petition was filed against the state govern-

ment at the Patna High Court, which challenged the decision and sought the reinstatement

of Maithili in the examination.27 Yadav’s term as Chief Minister had ended in 1997, but

the government led by his Janata Dal party kept its stakes against Maithili firmly in the

fire. The court case continued for eight years and culminated in an order for reinstatement

of Maithili by the Patna High Court in October 2000.28 The Government of Bihar ignored

the court order and pressed on which its resistance. An article from The Telegraph from

November 2002 quoted Yadav as saying the “Patna High Court has ordered inclusion of

Maithili. We have filed a petition before the Supreme Court against the high court order.

We are not going to change our position.”29 Subsequently, the Yadav government filed an

Bihar. State Cabinet, “Memorandum.”
Patna High Court, “Binay Kumar Mishra Vs. State of Bihar and Ors.”
“HC verdict on Maithili hailed.”
Chakraborty, “Maithili row in govt.”

appeal in the Supreme Court of India against the decision of the Patna High Court. While

the appeal was being fought, the Parliament of India passed a bill in December 2003 intro-

duced by the Bharatiya Janata Party that granted ‘scheduled status’ to Maithili. A month

later in January 2004, Maithili was included in Schedule VIII of the Constitution of India

and become the latest of twenty-two languages officially recognized by the Government of

India.30 Consequently, the Supreme Court declared that the ‘scheduled status’ of Maithili

invalidates all state-level restrictions upon usage of the language.

Yadav made headlines when he announced his new language policy for Bihar. Writing

in the news magazine India Today, Farzand Ahmad reported

The man just thrives on conflict, controversy and caste wars. Bihar Chief Minister
Laloo Prasad Yadav first expanded his caste constituency by launching a “social jus-
tice” campaign for the backwards and minorities.
Many more followed. The latest campaign concerns his decision to withdraw the
Maithili language from the curriculum of the Bihar Public Service Commission.
As expected, politicians and students in the Maithili region dominated by the powerful
Brahmins took to the streets. The Opposition accused him of creating yet more caste
and language troubles in a state which has too many of them.
As for the BJP, it promptly jumped into the fray to create a new political base among
Maithili Brahmins, particularly as Urdu was being kept in the curriculum while Maithili
had been pushed out.
Laloo couldn’t care less about the outcry. His gameplan is clear: the more violently
the Brahmins react against the decision, the stronger will be his standing amongst the
backwards. And his heart lies where his votes are.31

An article in the Times of India penned by Pranava Chaudhary echoed the analysis and

interpretation of the India Today piece:

India. Ministry of Law and Justice. Legislative Department, “Constitution (Ninety-Second Amendment)
Ahmed, “Tongue Lashing.”

The Bihar government’s decision to abolish Maithili from the curriculum of the Bihar
Public Service Commission (BPSC) has once again stirred up a subdued movement of
Maithili protagonists for their linguistic identity.
In the caste-based perception of the Janata Dal government, the decision to abolish
Maithili from the BPSC curriculum seems to be aimed at preventing the upper castes
of Mithilanchal, particularly Maithil brahmins from entering government service
The government’s decision instead of taking into account the merit of the language,
primarily stems from caste and political considerations.
Meanwhile, the Bihar unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s call for “Mithilanchal bandh”
on March 7 may generate much heat among the Maithili speaking people of Bihar. Ex-
cept for the Congress and the BJP, none of the political parties have dared to comment
on the matter because of its political alliance with the Janata Dal government in Bi-

Yadav’s attitudes and actions towards Maithili are certainly curious. Equally as no-

table are the media reports regarding the circumstances, both the nature of the information

contained in the narratives as well as their pragmatic underpinnings. The statements by

the Yadav government and the expressions and interpretations of journalists convey an as-

sumption about Maithili for which the rationale is not apparent. In his India Today arti-

cle, Farzand Ahmed ‘expected’ protests in “the Maithili-speaking region dominated by the

powerful Brahmins” and accepted the premise that Yadav attempted to weaken the dom-

inance of upper castes by restricting the usage of Maithili, such that “the more violently

the Brahmins react against the decision”, the more Yadav will have a stronger base. Sim-

ilarly, Pranava Chaudhary noted in his Times of India article that Yadav intentionally tar-

geted upper-caste communities with his agenda for Maithili, hoping to prevent “the upper

castes of Mithilanchal, particularly Maithil brahmins” from entering government service.

Chaudhary, “Maithili protagonists resent govt. apathy,” 8.

Moreover, the Bihar government’s decision on Maithili “has again stirred up a subdued

movement of Maithili protagonists for their linguistic identity.”

The attitudes and assumptions about Maithili held by Laloo Prasad Yadav and the above

journalists raise several questions. What explains Yadav’s decision to remove Maithili from

the curriculum of the public service commission? What explains the tenacity with which the

Yadav regime resisted even a court order to reverse its position on Maithili? What explains

a concerted effort maintained over a decade by Yadav and his supporters for the purpose

of suppressing the language? Equally as curious are the manner in which journalists por-

trayed the events. Why did Ahmed ‘expect’ protests in the Maithili-speaking region? Why

would Brahmins react ‘violently’ to Yadav’s decision? Who are the ‘Maithili protagonists’

to which Chaudhary referred, who were concerned for ‘their’ linguistic identity? How ex-

actly would Yadav provide uplift to ‘backward’ caste communities by restricting the usage

of Maithili? What were the ‘caste and political considerations’ that motivated Yadav’s de-

cision against Maithili? A hint to the answer to the questions lies in Ahmed’s conclusion

about Yadav’s decision: “The man just thrives on conflict, controversy and caste wars.”

This quip suggests that Yadav’s decision to abolish Maithili from the BPSC examination

was linked to his political ambitions, which in turn was guided by strategies of politicizing

caste in order to strengthen and maintain his dominance in the political and social sphere of

Bihar. Indeed, he writes that Yadav had “first expanded his caste constituency by launching

a ‘social justice’ campaign for the backwards and minorities.” Now, “[t]he latest campaign

concerns his decision to withdraw the Maithili language from the curriculum of the Bi-

har Public Service Commission.” Thus, as Chaudhary lamented, “government’s decision

instead of taking into account the merits of the language, primarily stems from caste and po-

litical considerations.” The notion that Yadav ‘thrives’ on caste conflict, however, further

mystifies his position on Maithili.

The above circumstances operate within and reinforce the discourse that Maithili is a

language of Brahmins. But, what is the reality and parameters of this discourse? What

explains the durability of the perceived linkage between Maithili and Brahmins? This dis-

course itself operates within the larger paradigm of language and caste. But, it also raises

the question of what is the relationship, if any, between language and caste? The discrep-

ancy between the attitudes held by Yadav and Grierson regarding Maithili raises several

questions. How did a language spoken by ‘more than seven and a quarter millions of peo-

ple’, by ‘all the Hindús and Muhammadans’ of north Bihar and ‘the unnumbered millions

of the Nepál Taráí’ in 1882, one that was long considered an ‘uncouth dialect of untaught

villagers’, come to be perceived by 1992 as an upper-caste language associated with a par-

ticular Brahmin community?

Perhaps the answer for the linkage between language and caste may be found in the

statement made by Pranava Chaudhary, that the Bihar government’s decision on Maithili

“has again stirred up a subdued movement of Maithili protagonists for their linguistic iden-

tity.” It is true that during the period 1910–1940 there were several attempts to gain political

benefits for the Maithil language and the culture of Mithila. The most influential analysis

of this ‘movement’ was made by Paul R. Brass in Language, Religion and Politics in North

India (1974), in which the eminent political scientist analyzed the Mithila statehood and

Maithili language demands as a regional linguistic movement in India that failed to develop

strength through the symbol of language.33 Brass addressed the question, “why the Maithili-

speaking people, objectively different from the other peoples of Bihar in language, culture,

and territory, have not so far transformed their objective differences into a significant con-

sciousness.”34 His answer was that “while the objective conditions for a Maithili regional

identity exist in abundance, the major requisites for subjective regional consciousness have

been lacking”35 According to Brass, the Maithili movement failed because its leaders were

unsuccessful in generating sentiment based on Maithili language and culture among the

broader Maithili-speaking community. Maithili ethnic values were emphasized by regional

elites, namely Maithil Brahmins and Karna Kayasthas, who failed to communicate these

values to the majority of Maithili speakers. In addition to a lack of cultural mobilization,

Maithili advocates lacked leadership and cohesion. Brass concluded that these structural

weaknesses contributed to ineffective political action on behalf of Maithil identity. Com-

pounding the structural problems, social mobilization among Maithili speakers was slow.36

Brass’s conclusions have influenced subsequent politicial scientists, sociologists, and

historians who have studied north Bihar, as well as the discursive approaches to the cul-

tural and linguistic aspects of the region. Subsequent studies fall in line with Brass’s find-

ings. For example, the sociologist Hetukar Jha examined the ‘elite-mass contradiction’ in

Brass, Language, Religion and Politics in North India, 47.
Ibid., 51.
Ibid., 51–52.

Mithila.37 The paradigm of ‘failed movement’ also influenced the views of politicians in

Bihar, who make use of this label for their own purposes. Yet, while Brass’s findings are

certainly valid, especially with regard to the terminal period of his study in early 1970s,

viewing the social, intellectual, political history of Maithili and Mithila through the lens of

success and failure of an elite group misses more significant aspects of the Maithili case.

I believe there is more to the story of the ‘Maithili movement’ than the failure of elites to

mobilize popular support or a lack of interest among speakers of Maithili to advocate on

behalf of their mother tongue. I investigated the matter further in my master’s thesis, in

which I evaluated the strategy employed by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the elections of

2004.38 Politicians promised official recognition of Maithili, but had directed this attention

primarily towards the Maithil Brahmin community. An understanding of the linguistic at-

tributes of Maithil Brahmin identity requires taking the matter of identity to a deeper level

that is rooted in a much deeper chronology.

Purpose of the Study

This dissertation seeks to provide an understanding of the origins of the ‘Maithila’ Brah-

mins. The ‘Maithila’, or more commonly, ‘Maithil’ Brahmins are the dominant Brahmin

community of north Bihar, which is also known as Mithila, Tirabhukti, and Tirhut in vari-

ous sources. Their internal history associates them with the ancient country of Mithila, the

home of Sītā, ‘born of the furrow’, the daughter of king Janaka, who is the bride of Rāma

Jha, “Elite-Mass Contradiction in Mithila in Historical Perspective.”
Pandey, “Avenging Maithili: The Eighth Schedule and Electoral Power in Bihar, 1999–2004.”

in the classical epic Rāmāyaṇa. The aim of this study is to peel away the mythical veil

that shrouds not only the conventional understanding of origins among the Maithil Brah-

mins, but to describe the processes and ideologies that that established the identity of the

Brahmins of Mithila as the ‘Maithil’ Brahmins.

In the Linguistic Survey of India, he wrote the following about Mithila: “For centuries

it has been a tract too proud to admit other nationalities to intercourse on equal terms, and

has passed through conquest after conquest, from the north, from the east, and from the

west, without changing its ancestral peculiarities.”39 Furthermore, it was “a land under the

domination of a sept of Brāhmaṇs extraordinarily devoted to the mint, anise, and cumin

of the law”.40 Grierson does not provide details about his description in the volume on the

languages of Bihar, but he alludes to these ‘ancestral peculiarities’ in an earlier work titled

Bihār Peasant Life (1885), in which he wrote:

The Soti Brāhmans of East Tirhut have several curious marriage customs which have
existed for many hundred years, some of which will now be noted. The greatest care
is kept in keeping up correct genealogies of members of this clan. The genealogical
registers are called पाँजी pānji, and they are kept up by hereditary genealogists called
पँिजकार panjiyār. Once a year or oftener there are great meetings of these Brāhmans
at Saurāth, near Madhubani, and other places, where the panjiyārs assemble and write
up the registers. They also arrange marriages after consulting their registers, and give
certificates to the parents certifying that the marriage is lawful, and that the parties
are not within prohibited degrees of affinity. These certificates are called अिधकार माला
adhikār māla or असजन ु प asujan patr. The settlement of the conditions of marriage is
called िसधाँत sidhānt.41

Grierson’s description of the marriage customs and genealogical practices of the Maithil

Brahmins suggests the existence of a basis of social identity that predates linguistic identity.
Grierson, Linguistic Survey of India, vol. V, pt. II, 3.
Ibid., 4.
Grierson, Bihār Peasant Life, 373.

This study offers insights into the ideological origins of the Maithil Brahmin community

through the themes of genealogy, territory, and authority. The study begins by analyzing

‘genealogy’ within the discourse of a question that has been asked by Indian scholars since

before the common era: How does one recognize a Brahmin? I use this question in order

to explain a census of Brahmins conducted in north Bihar in the 14th century during the

reign of Harisimhadeva, the last king of the Karnata dynasty. The census resulted in the

creation of a formal genealogical system known as pañjī prabandha. The king appointed

official genealogists in order to maintain the registers. The king also imposed new rules

regarding marriage and mandated that marriages must be validated by genealogists and ap-

proved by the king. The pañjī prabandha established the endogamous boundaries of a new

Brahmin community. Moreover, by controlling marriage and, consequently, reproduction,

the system also dictated future membership in the community. In addition to establish-

ing endogamous boundaries, the pañjī system defined the second foundational aspect of

the caste: its territorial distribution. My analysis of the ‘territorial’ aspect of the Maithil

Brahmins focuses upon the creation of a territorial patriline anchored to north Bihar. The

founder of this patriline, known as the mūla, is an apical ancestor who is the earliest forefa-

ther known to have resided in north Bihar. I propose that the ‘mula’ represents a deliberate

effort by the implementers of pañjī prabandha to establish Brahmin lineages connected

to the Karnata kingdom. After pañjī prabandha, the label ‘Maithil’ was re-defined from

a generic territorial designation to refer specifically to a Brahmin inhabiting the Karnata

kingdom of Mithila. Thirdly, I apply the theme of ‘authority’ to an analysis of the hier-

archical rank system of the Maithil Brahmin community. The pañjī records had resolved

the ancient question of ‘who is a Brahmin?’ as a Brahmin could now easily be identified

using genealogy. But, the question did not disappear; I propose that it was reformulated to

inquire ‘who is the best Brahmin?’ The rank system classified Brahmin lineages recorded in

the genealogies into three hierarchical groups based upon the scholarly and religious merits

of a Brahmin. The rank system identified the best of Brahmins as the Shrotriya. The imple-

mentation of the pañjī prabandha by the Karnata king was an important historical event as

it established the Maithil Brahmin community as a distinctive endogamous and territorial

caste group in the 14th century for the first time.

There is, however, another aspect to the origin of the Maithil Brahmin community that

may appear to be extraneous to the Brahmin order, but which I explain as being quite cen-

tral to its ideology and operation. In addition to establishing the ‘Maithil’ community, the

pañjī prabandha placed the authority to regulate the Brahmin community of Mithila in the

hands of the king. This management of the Brahmin caste by the king adheres to traditional

brahminical views of the social order, but this order was disrupted shortly after the imple-

mentation of pañjī prabandha. In 1326, north Bihar was conquered by the Delhi Sultanate

and the dynasty of the Karnata Kshatriyas was abolished. The Sultan replaced the former

Kshatriya king Harisimhadeva by appointing a new authority to govern on behalf of Delhi.

This new ruler was a high-ranking Shrotriya Brahmin. His social practices were not only

regulated by the pañjī system, but now as the functional ruler of Mithila, he was also in

charge of regulating the system and brahminical society. In addition to genealogy, terri-

tory, and status, the concept of kingship became an integral part of the caste ideology of the

Maithil Brahmins as two Shrotriya families ruled Tirhut, as Mithila was formally known,

from 1351 to 1947.

To date there is no comprehensive study on the origins of identity among the Maithil

Brahmins. Starting in the early 20th century scholars from within the Maithil Brahmin

community attempted to use pañjī records for discussing the history of the community. In

his Mithilā-tattva-vimarśa, written in 1914 and first published in 1977, Paramesvara Jha

writes that “the issue of pañjī prabandha has been largely unrevealed, so I cannot publish

much about it clearly, but if I don’t then it will be lost to history, so I must write a bit about

it.”42 Shortly after, Maharaja Rameshwar Singh presented a detailed account of the mar-

riage customs that resulted from pañjī prabandha in “An Account of the Maithil Marriage”

(1917). Since that time a small body of scholarship has emerged regarding pañjī prabandha

and its effects on the organization, social structure, and kinship patterns of Maithil Brahmin

society. All of the materials published in English have been surveyed and an attempt has

been made to survey contributions in Maithili and Hindi, although a complete bibliography

of contributions in these languages could not be produced owing to the logistical diffi-

culty in identifying the breadth of such articles and monographs. Rāmanātha Jhā (1972).

The majority of the English-language contributions are brief journal articles that provide

assessments of the origins of the system, descriptions of the caste structure and organiza-

tion, and enumerations of the lineages named in the records, ie. Ugra Nath Jha (1966),

“य िप पि ब क कतेको िवषय अितशय गो अिछ, तकरा हम प कािशत निह कय सकै छी, पर ु िक निह िलखले
इितहासमे हािन, त सं पे तः िलखबो आव यक ।” (Jhā, Mithilā-tattva-vimarśa, 83).

Baidyanath Saraswati (1955, 1957, 1962), Nawal Kishore Sinha (1978). Others explain the

effects of pañjī prabandha on Maithil society, particularly the mutation of the hypergamic

principle into ‘kulinism’, ie. Jata Shankar Jha (1981), Vijay Kumar Thakur (1979). Two

monographs have been written about pañjī prabandha. The first, by Ugra Nath Jha (1980),

provides a detailed account of the social structure and the lineage system. The second, by

Abhaya Nath Mishra (1984), is a light sketch of the Shrotriya community within the Maithil

Brahmin caste. Jata Shankar Jha wrote about an attempt by the Maharaja of Darbhanga in

the late 18th century to curtail this practice (1981). In addition to Paul Brass, the Western

scholar who shed significant light upon the Maithil Brahmins was Carolyn Brown, who

wrote a series of four essays on the marriage practics of the community. The first essay

(1983) assessed the rank structure of the Maithil Brahmins by borrowing the paradigm of

the superiority and inferiority of ‘substance’ and ‘code’ within the Bengali kinship system

offered by Ronald Inden (1976), which is aligned with David M. Schneider’s ‘biogenetic’

analysis of American kinship. The second article (1983) is an analysis of the role of mar-

riage in affecting rank dynamics. The third (1985) discusses the impact of the principles of

endogamy upon the involution of the rank system. The fourth (1988) examines the manner

in which the rank structure had to be adjusted in order to enable marriage across ranks when

grade endogamy was no longer possible on account of the diminishing number of potential

marriage partners within the highest rank. The pañjī prabandha, then, gave rise to an ex-

treme form of polygynyous marriage, which not only wreaked havoc on the social structure

of Maithil Brahmin society, but which also caught the attention of scholars over the past

two centuries.

The largest hinderance to a proper study of pañjī prabandha and other aspects of brah-

minical society in north Bihar during the medieval period is access to sources and the paucity

of primary sources on this topic. While the pañjī records offer a vast amount of detail on

Maithil Brahmins, the records themselves are difficult to access. The difficulty is not one of

language or script or completeness of content; rather, it is one of privilege. The pañjīkara-s

whose families have maintained these records for generations are often reluctant to allow

others to persue their records. It is a matter of ‘intellectual property’ to them. I was fortu-

nate enough to receive a complete digitized set of pañjī records from Gajendra Thakur of

New Delhi in 2007. I was allow permitted to browse through transcriptions of records that

are in the possession of Hetukar Jha of Patna in 2013. The second limitation is the lack of

historical records about the general society, culture, and polity of the Karnata period. Sev-

eral scholars have complained about this.43 Apart from the genealogical records, there are

very few sources directly related to the origins of the records. Although pañjī prabandha

took place during Karnata rule, the kings of this dynasty left no epigraphic sources, such

as copper-plate grants to Brahmins. The absence is quite curious because the pañjī records

provide ample proof of Brahmin settlements in north Bihar. Equally curious is that there are

epigraphical sources from the borderlands of Mithila slightly preceding and during Karnata

rule, which show land grants being made to Brahmins in areas of north Bihar. Moreover,

Sircar, Studies in the Society and Administration of Ancient and Medieval India, 140; Chaudhary, “Po-
litical History of North Bihar,” 281.

textual sources from the period directly following the Karnata dynasty also provide ample

information about the society and polity of north Bihar. Several historians have used these

sources in order to describe facets of Karnata rule, writing with an air of such confidence that

would lead the reader to assume that the narrative was more fact than speculation. More-

over, they have made statements that can neither be proved or disproved. Unfortunately,

given the limited sources, any attempt at understanding the Karnata period must rely on

tangential sources. I use these sources, but employ a methodology that appropriately con-

textualizes them with regard to their provenance. I view these limitations not as a detriment

to the study, but as additional proof for the necessity of this dissertation.

Chapter 1

The Rebirth of a Brahmin

In this chapter I demonstrate that an attempt was undertaken in 14th century Mithila to

verify the identity of a Brahmin through the creation of standardized genealogies and the

regulation of marriages in a census called the pañjī prabandha. The formalization of brah-

minical identity was predicated upon three factors. First, the pañjī system established that a

Brahmin was indeed a ‘Brahmin’ by registering him in the genealogical census. Secondly,

the system classified each Brahmin based upon his ancestry into a new lineage designation

called the mūla, which is founded upon a single, historical ancestor. Thirdly, the system

enforced isogamy through genealogy by mandating that marriages be performed between

individuals belonging to registered mūla-s, with regard to the new principle of mūla ex-

ogamy and the traditional prohibitions against consanguinity as enjoined by the smr̥ti texts.

By limiting marriages to those individuals belonging to known mūla-s, the pañjī system

controlled the identity of Brahmins in Mithila by ensuring that future Brahmins would be

born to parents whose ‘Brahminhood’ was confirmed by the genealogical record. The reg-

istration of Brahmins, the codification of the mūla, and the assurance of the ‘Brahminhood’

of offspring established a genealogical foundation for a new endogamous jāti or ‘caste’

of Brahmins in Mithila, in which membership was thereafter determined solely through


1.1 Perceiving a Brahmin through the Senses

“We do not know if we are Brahmins or non-Brahmins”.1 The philosopher Śabara came

to this conclusion as he pondered a proposition by Jaimini,2 the founder of the Mimamsa

school, regarding the validity of recognizing distinctions between individual objects be-

longing to the same class when physical characteristics are insufficient for doing so. On a

similar note, but within a different domain, the grammarian Kātyāyana gave the example of

‘non-Brahmin’ as word that could be derived from ‘Brahmin’ by the application of Pāṇini’s

morphological rule of negation.3 These concerns regarding ‘Brahmin’ and ‘non-Brahmin’

are pedagogical tropes that appear in philosophical and philological discourses on the in-

terpretation of reality in ancient India. It is evident, however, that Brahmins reacted to the

cognative implications of being ‘Brahmin’ or ‘non-Brahmin’ in ways that were less theo-

retical and more personal. Śabara’s concerns about recognizing a ‘Brahmin’ through sense

perception might force one to think about how to identify an unknown Brahmin apart from

a person of another varṇa in a crowd. Kātyāyana’s creation of the word ‘non-Brahmin’

using grammatical transformations of Sanskrit might compel one to imagine the qualities

of an antithesis for which an established definition does not exist. That the idea of the ‘non-

Bhāṣya 2.2.4: न च ैति ो वयं ा णा वा ः अ ा णा वा । (Nyáyaratna, Aphorisms of the Mimámsá, vol. I, 40).
Mīmāṃsa Sūtra 1.2.2: शा िवरोधा । “And of reason of being contrary to the religious rules and sensuous
perception.” (Sandal, Mîmâmsâ Sûtras of Jaiminî, 10).
Aṣṭādhyāyī 2.2.6: नञ ् (Vasu, Ashṭádhyáyí, Book II, 256).

Brahmin’ made a deep imprint upon the imagination of early Brahmins is further exempli-

fied by usage of the trope in later treatises and also in the evolution of its interpretation. The

grammarian Patañjali seems to have taken Kātyāyana’s example of the ‘non-Brahmin’ quite

literally. He attempted to interpret ‘non-Brahmin’ by entirely avoiding a definition. Instead

he provided the criteria by which a ‘Brahmin’ is to be identified: “by virtue of his birth”, but

especially “by his knowledge of scripture and his ascetic qualities” and additionally “by his

pure conduct, fair complexion, brown eyes, and tawny hair.”4 A ‘non-Brahmin’, therefore,

was someone who did not possess these features and traits. It is not known whether such

specific definitions reflect the personal positions of these Brahmins or if they were inten-

tionally devised as literal responses. Some modern scholars have suggested that Patañjali

had based his definition of ‘Brahmin’ upon actual traits he observed during his lifetime,5

but there is little evidence to confirm or deny such claims. Moreover, the nature of these

interpretations suggest that these early Brahmin thinkers were not fully convinced that their

positions offered any tangible means for distinguishing between a ‘Brahmin’ and a ‘non-

Brahmin’. Patañjali might likely concede that physical traits did not always provide a sure

means for recognizing a Brahmin apart from individuals of other varṇa-s. Would he truly

insist that a Brahmin with green or black eyes, but who satisfies all of the other criteria, is

a ‘non-Brahmin’? Likewise, Kātyāyana might agree that other external, but non-corporeal

characteristics might not accurately define a Brahmin because, as he states, someone could

be “like a Brâhmaṇa and wearing the sacred thread”, but that person is actually “not a Brâh-

Vyākaraṇa Mahābhāṣya 2.2.6: तपः तु ं च योिन े ते ा णकारकम ।् [...] गौरः श ु ाचारः िप लः किपलके श इ ते ान -

रा ा ये गणा ु वि । (Kielhorn, Vyâkaraṇa Mahâbhâshya, vol. 1, 411–412).
Kosambi, “Early Brahmins and Brahminism,” 37.

maṇa, but a Kshatriya or a Vaisya”.6 Thus, the wearing of the yajñopavīta, or the ‘sacred

thread’, did not perceptibly set a Brahmin apart from a Kshatriya or a Vaishya, both of whom

were also eligible for the upanayana sacrament; and a Shudra could deceptively represent

himself as a Brahmin simply by wearing the sacred thread. Similarly, purity in conduct is a

tenuous measure. A Brahmin who unintentionally violates a Vedic injunction and remains

unaware of his trangression would surely lose his social status as a Brahmin, but if the culpa-

ble Brahmin is not aware of his wrong doing, then there is no way for him or others to know

that he has lost his status. He would go about being a ‘Brahmin’ with no palpable repercus-

sion, despite the metaphysical impact to him and other Brahmins. Moreover, perceiving a

Brahmin by virtue of his birth is fallable as there is no means for validating an individual’s

claim to be born into a Brahmin family in the absence of direct personal knowledge of his

parents or proof of his ancestry. The trope of the ‘non-Brahmin’ may have been originally

presented within pedagogical discourses, but the manner in which Brahmins contemplated

it suggests that the question of knowing who was a ‘Brahmin’ had seeped far beyond the

realm of philosophical and philological theorizing and into the domain of social practice

and daily existence in the centuries before the common era.

As is evident from the regulations in the dharma literature regarding marriage and other

aspects of brahminical society, the aforementioned discussions on the definition and nature

of ‘Brahminhood’ had practical implications for the relationships and interactions between

members of this varṇa. The necessity of recognizing and knowing who was a Brahmin

extended beyond the qualities and characteristics of an individual to that of his immediate
Vasu, Ashṭádhyáyí, Book II, 258.

family and his relatives, then to the local community to which his family and other kinsmen

belonged, and ultimately to a broader aggregation of groups of Brahmins. Naturally, fol-

lowing the criteria of Patañjali, if a Brahmin is to be known on account of his birth, then he

must certainly be the offspring of a mother and a father who are both Brahmins on account

of their births, and each parent must be descended from mothers and fathers who are also

Brahmins by the same criteria, and so forth. Consequently, a Brahmin family would want

to ensure that potential brides for its sons are daughters born from Brahmin parents, for only

then will the descendants of the marriage be Brahmins as well.

It is within this practical context that Kumārila Bhaṭṭa, the great proponent of Mi-

mamsa from the 8th century ëí, pointed to the fact that reputable Brahmin families main-

tained genealogical records for knowing their ancestries and, thereby, to facilitate both

their knowledge of their own ‘Brahminhood’ and to maintain the same for their descen-

dants. Kumārila’s reference to genealogical record-keeping occurs in a passage in the Ta-

ntravārttika (c. 700 ëí) that addresses Śabara’s concern about recognizing ‘Brahmin’ or

‘non-Brahmin’ through sense perception. While Patañjali insisted that a Brahmin may be

recognized by his birth, appearance, and conduct, Kumārila sought to establish the more

fundamental aspect of this identity, that a ‘Brahmin’ was foremost to be recognized on ac-

count of his birth. Below I provide the portions of his dialogue that are of relevance to the

present discussion.7 Kumārila begins by raising a question about ‘Brahminhood’ (brāh-


कथम [् ा ण ]ं लोक िस म ।् ण ु
ू ः । क ा नमातािपतृ
े िे त म स ानिभ ा ःु संिन-
कृ षे ु मन ु षे ु अना ातं न ितप े । श भावात [् ...] ु ोश ो ऽिप िनिम रा ते न ैव ित-
प ।े
How can a Brahmana be known by ordinary men? It is known by direct Sense-perception.
But, then, how is it even when the person is before our eyes, if we do not know the
details of his parentage, &c., we are unable to ascertain whether he is a Brahmana or
not, until someone tells us of it? Well, the reason for this lies in the absence for proper
faculties in us for perceiving the Brahmanahood [...] [I]n the case of the Brahmana,
even when one has fully comprehended the meaning of the word, he is unable, in the
absence of other means, to ascertain the fact of a particular person being a Brahmana.

He then proceeds to question the ability of perceiving ‘Brahminhood’ through the percep-

tion of the senses (pratyakṣa):

न चोपवीता ायनािद िनिम ं वण यसाधारण ात ।् अ ापना िप िभ ाचार ि यवै य ितयोिग ा-

िं द धम ।् सव च शू ेष ु सभ
ं ा मान ादिनि तम ।् य िवचािरतिस मेव ितप ते स शिु कामिप
रजतं म मानः ीणीयात ।्
For instance, neither the wearing of the sacred thread, nor the study of the Veda can
be a means of such ascertainment; because these two features are common to all the
three higher castes; as for the work of teaching [...] inasmuch as such Kshatriyas and
Vaīçyas8 have transgressed the limitations to their duties, are also found to be engaged
in that work, this can serve only as a very doubtful index. In fact, all these can belong
to Çūdras9 also, — such of them as are not mindful of their own specified duties and
trangress the limitations laid down in the scriptures. Consequently none of these can
serve as a sure index of Brahmanahood. And if one were to accept a man as a Brah-
mana, without proper consideration, such a person would, as reasonably purchase a
piece of shell, thinking it to be silver?’

The original Sanskrit text of the Tantravārttika and the translation presented here are derived from two
different sources. The Sanskrit is from the edition by Pandita Gaṅgādhara Śāstrī (Tantravârtika, 5–7). The
Tantravārttika is a work in continuous prose, but I have separated the original into phrases in order to align
it with the translation for ease following the text. The translation is by Mahāmahopādhyāya Sir Gaṅgānātha
Jhā (Tantravārttika, 7–9).
More commonly transliterated as vaiśya.
More commonly transliterated as śudra.

Having stated that ‘Brahminhood’ cannot be observed through outward appearance or ac-

tivity, he offers a way to recognize a Brahmin:

िचि कािच ाित हणे इितक ता भवतीित विणतमेतत।् [...] तथ ैवा ो ादकजाित रणम ।् अयं
चो ा ो ादकस ो मातरु व
े ः [...] । पराधा ु ानो ऽयं स इित यमेव व ित।

न च ताव ा ण ता हीयते । [...] न च ीणां िच िभचारदशना व वै क ना य ु ा लोक-
िव ु भवात ।्
[A]s it has been already explained [...] there are different methods for the cognition
of different classes [...] in the same manner, we could assume the remembrance of the
caste of the progenitor [...] This relation of the progeny and the progenitor is directly
perceptible only with reference to the mother [...] [O]n account of there being chances
of the mother having misbehaved, it would be extremely difficult to ascertain the rela-
tionship of the child (with the father of the particular caste). But this difficulty cannot
deprive the cognition (of the class Brahmana) of the character of Sense-perception; [...]
Then again, because we may have found a certain woman to have misbehaved, that can-
not enable us to assume the same misbehaviour in the case of all women; because such
an assumption, being directly contradictory to all ordinary experience, could never be
valid; as we find that women of respectable families always try their very best to save
their character [...]

As ‘remembrance of the caste of the progenitor’ (utpādaka jāti smaraṇa) is the surest way

for identifying a Brahmin, Kumārila describes the means for remembrance:

िविश ने िह य ने महाकुलीनाः पिरर ा ानेन ैव हेतनु ा राजिभ ा ण ै िपतृिपतामहािद पार-

यािव रणाथ समूहले ु
ािन वि तािन। तथा च ितकुलं गणदोष रणा दन ु पाः वृि िनवृ यो
य ।े
And it is for the sake of making their respective caste duly and authoritatively recog-
nised, that the Brahmanas and the Kings have introduced the system of writing up and
preserving their genealogies trees, which serve to preserve and perpetuate the names
of their forefathers. And as these records distinctly point out the particular excellences
and defects of each family, it is always in accordance with these that, we find people
being attached to, or repulsed from, particular families.

Genealogical records of the family (samūha-lekhya) are the authoritative means for know-

ing the caste of the progenitor. He then states that birth is definitive:

न च भतृ ितरेककृ तेन वणसंकरो ऽपराधेन जायते। यते परािधनीनामिप भतृिनिम ः। तदपराध-
िनिम ु तासामशभु फलोपभोगो भवेद ् न प ानां वणसंकरः। न च िनयोगतो वणा रैरव
े सह मादः।
सवणन चो ािदत न ैव वणा र ापि ः।
Nor is it necessary that the misbehaving of a woman should produce a child of a mixed
caste; It is quite possible that such misbehaviour might subject the woman to unpleasant
experiences hereafter; but it can it no way make the child a bastard. Nor, again, is it
necessary that the misbehaviour should be with a man of a different caste; and a child
produced by one of the same caste as the mother cannot be said to be of a mixed caste

Moreover, the descendants of a Brahmin and a woman of a lower varṇa may regain the

status of the father after a number of generations:

संकरजातानामिप च पनु षापकषा ां स मे प मे वा तरवणापि ः यते। त ते ाव ा माग-

िमकं ते म।् न यं प ु षेय ािनयमो लौिकक माणग ः।
It is also laid down in the Smrtis that even the bastard regains the original purity of
the caste of his either parent, by a continuous excellence, or otherwise, of conduct and
relationships, when he reaches the fifth or seventh generation downwards [...] And in
this matter, the only factor for which we cannot have any authority than that of the
scriptures, is that of the specific number of generations being five or seven; the rest is
all based upon facts of ordinary experience.

He then restates the limitations of using conduct as a measure of recognition:

[...] ा णादीनामाचार शेन ा णादय इित। स एव शभु ाचारकाले ा णः पनरश ु भु ाचाकाले शू

इ नवि त म।् तथ ैके न ैव य ने परपीडान ु हािद कुवतां यगु प ा ण ा ा ण िवरोधः।
[...] rules of conduct are laid down as pertaining to Brahmanas already exist; and so if
the strict following of such rules were the cause of Brahmanahood, there would be a
mutual interdependence — the rules being based upon Brahmanahood, and Brahmana-
hood being based upon the following of the rules. And further, one and the same man
would be a Brahmana when performing a good deed and a Çūdra when doing a bad
one; and thus there would be no fixity of the castes. Similarly, when a man would be
found to be performing an action that would give pain to a person, as well as afford
him relief, the person would come to be considered a Çūdra and a Brahmana at one
and the same time, which would be an absurdity.

Finally, he concludes by establishing the criteria by which a Brahmin is to be known:

एतािभ पपि िभ यं ितपा ते। न तप आदीनां समदु ायो ा यम।् न त िनतः सं ारः। न तदिभ-
ा जाितः। िकं तिह मातािपतृजाित ानािभ ा समिधग ा।
The upshot of all these arguments is this: Brahmanahood is not an aggregate of penance,
nor is it a certain purification brought about by these, nor is it a caste manifested by
these; what it really is, is a caste signified by the cognition of the caste of the parents;
and as such, it is cognisable directly by Sense-perception.

Kumārila’s discourse on the use of ‘sense perception’ for interpreting the identity of

a Brahmin is significant for two reasons. First, it makes clear his opinion that ‘Brahmin-

hood’ is not based upon occupation. Neither ritual practices nor the study of the Veda sets a

Brahmin apart from others because these are also the privilege of Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.

Moreover, action is not a sure determinant because if a Brahmin were to perform an ac-

tion that ‘would give pain to a person’ then he would be a Shudra, and that it would be an

‘absurdity’ for a person to be simultaneously a Brahmin and a Shudra. The actions of an

individual, whether in accordance or not with the duties and restrictions of his caste, do not

alter the caste identity of that individual. The only true way to ascertain if an individual

is a Brahmin is by ensuring that both of his parents are Brahmin. The importance of birth

to Kumārila is further indicated by his position that a son born to Brahmin parents out of

wedlock is to be considered a Brahmin. Secondly, Kumārila analyzes recognition through

birth at a practical level. He states that the relationship between ‘the progeny and the pro-

genitor’ is dependent upon the mother, for she is the only one who can actually verify the

father of a child. It is for this reason that Kumārila’s exposition is all the more significant

for he states that it is this incentive to make ‘their caste duly and authoritative recognized’,

with the assumption that the woman ‘tries her very best to save her character’, and to en-

sure ‘remembrance of the caste of the progenitor’ that Brahmins maintain their genealogies,

or samūha-lekhya. Genealogies offer a way of gaining ‘cognition of the caste’. The epis-

temological issues surrounding the method of identifying a Brahmin, then developed into

means of recognizing and remembering who was a Brahmin. Kumārila’s mention of the

‘non-Brahmin’ trope is significant because it illustrates that the issue continued to persist in

the minds of Brahmins over the eight centuries that separated Kumārila from Śabara. More-

over, Kumārila’s statement also suggests that Brahmins had finally developed a practical

solution for easing their anxieties about their personhood instead of relying upon theoretical

speculations that offered no true measure of ‘Brahminhood’. After all, tangible documen-

tation of an individual and his pedigree would be the surest means for knowing whether one

is a ‘Brahmin or ‘non-Brahmin’.

1.2 Ideology of Genealogical Identity

Kumārila does not specify the locations in India where Brahmins were reportedly record-

ing their ancestries. His explanation regarding genealogies might simply be a pedagogical

response affirming the validity of recognizing a Brahmin on account of birth. There is,

however, reason to suppose that Kumārila was referring to actual practice. The traditions

of the Maithil Brahmins provide some evidence that family histories were being maintained

to some extent in north Bihar. But, something seems to have gone awry with the genealog-

ical method in this community in 1324 ëí. This is the year in which an eminent Brahmin

and scholar of the dharma named Harinātha Upādhyāya was discovered to be an outcaste.

Harinātha would have met Patañjali’s criteria for being a Brahmin on account of his birth,

asceticism, and knowledge, but it seems there was an issue regarding his conduct that made

him impure: on account of genealogical oversight he had unintentionally married a woman

who was a blood relative. The smr̥ti literature emphasizes that Brahmin are to marry en-

dogamously within the varṇa and exogamously with regard the principles of gotra and

pravara. These texts, however, also permit a Brahmin to take wives of other castes under

certain circumstances. But, recognizing the impact of such marriages upon the social order,

the dharma authorities offer numerous jāti designations for various grades of inter-varṇa

offspring born of anuloma or ‘against the grain’ marriages between Brahmins and women

of lower varṇa-s. Moreover, through the principles of jātyutkarṣa and jātyapakarṣa, or the

‘rise’ and ‘fall’ of jāti-s, these texts also offer a means for permitting descendants of such

mixed marriages to re-enter the varṇa of their father after a set number of generations.

Kumārila does not describe the nature and content of samūha-lekhya. Based upon the

fact that he refers to the father and mother of a Brahmin, it may be inferred that these early

genealogical records contained information regarding the ancestry of the patriline and some

degree of detail about the non-agnatic patrilines that joined the agnatic lineage at each mar-

riage. These assumptions may be based upon the dharma literature, which also recognizes

the importance of the mother in determining the status of a Brahmin. The Yājñavalkya Sm-

r̥ti states that a bride should be of the same varṇa as the groom, for “through a proper10

A proper or faultless marriage is the first of the eight forms of marriage recognized by the dharma au-
thorities, ie. brāhma, daiva, ārṣa, and prājāpatya (see Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.57–59). For a comparison of the
definition of the eight forms across the dharma authorities, see Rocher, “The Sūtras and Śāstras on the Eight
Types of Marriage.”

marriage between a man and a woman of the same varṇa are born sons of the same jāti

who continue the lineage”.11 Here, Yājñavalkya states that the future of a man’s lineage

is dependent upon a male heir, who is a child born within a marital union. In addition to

emphasizing that a Brahmin must take a bride from within the varṇa in order to produce

a Brahmin son, the text further requires that the bride must not be related to the groom

within specific consanguinous categories: a potential bride must most importantly be one

“who is not a sapiṇḍa”,12 “not descended from a family having a common arṣa (pravara)

and gotra” to the groom, and “five and seven times removed from the mother and father,


Accordingly, brahminical kinship and identity is traditionally based upon three prin-

ciples: gotra, pravara, and piṇḍa.14 The gotra is an exogamous, patrilineal group that is

considered to be descended from a common, but mythical ancestor, who is a r̥ṣi, or an an-

cient sage associated with the Veda. On account of shared descent with this eponymous r̥ṣi,

Brahmins belonging to a particular gotra are traditionally viewed as members of a ‘clan’;

the term gotra itself refers to a “shelter for cows”15 and this notion of a cloistering of kine

extends its metaphor to a grouping of human kindred.16 As every Brahmin belongs to a

Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.90: सवण ः सवणास ु जाय े िह सजातयः । अिन षे ु िववाहेष ु प ु ाः स ानवधनाः ॥ (Panśīkar,
Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 27).
Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.52: अिव ुत चय ल यां ि यम ु हेत ।् अन पूिवकां का ामसिप डां यवीयसीम ॥ ् (ibid., 13).
13 ्
Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.53: अरोिगन ातृमतीमसमानाषगो जाम । प मा मा मातृतः िपतृत था ॥ (ibid., 14–15).
For a comprehensive explanation of these principles see Trautmann, Dravidian Kinship, Chapter 4 “Mar-
riage in the Dharmaśāstra”.
A ‘family enclosed by the hurdle’ and ‘tribe, subdivision’ (Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictio-
nary, 364).
The meaning of gotra as ‘clan’ and its significance in exogamy has evolved and diverged across the
various Brahmin communities. For example, T. N. Madan has shown that among the Brahmins, or Pandits,
of Kashmir, “the gotra is explicitly recognized as not constituting a kin group” (Madan, “Is the Brahmanic
Gotra a Grouping of Kin?,” 67). More precisely, in this context gotra-s do not constitute ‘kin categories’,

gotra, individuals sharing the same designation are known as sagotra. A gotra designation

is traditionally divided into a secondary level of segmentation called the gaṇa. Associated

with each gaṇa or “group” are a set of additional names of r̥ṣi-s who are considered de-

scendants of the founder of the gotra and who are equally as eponymous as their ancestor.

The set of names comprising a gaṇa is known as a pravara, which a Brahmin utters at the

commencement of rituals in order to make his pedigree known.17 The pravara is the sec-

ond organizing principle of kinship because individuals possessing the same pravara or a

pravara that contains even one ancestor in common are considered to be sapravara.18 The

connection of the gotra and pravara to Vedic textual and ritual tradition establishes them

as particularly brahminical institutions. The third principle, however, is not based upon

descent from sacred lineages, but is a universal specification that applies to members of

all varṇa-s. This is the concept of piṇḍa,19 which refers both to an offering to a deceased

ancestor made by a group of related individuals, as well as to a notion of a shared bodily

essence.20 The principle of piṇḍa is delimited by a generational extent. Within its definition

of being an ancestral offering, the piṇḍa relationship, or sapiṇḍa, ascends three generations

as the connection of sagotra-s is understood as a kin relationship (patrilineal descent), but there need be no
active social interactions among sagotra-s.
A वर pravara is a “summons” or “call”; “an invocation of Agni at the beginning of a sacrifice, a series
of ancestors (so called because Agni is invited to bear the oblations to the gods as he did for the sacrificer’s
progenitors, the names of the 4 or 5 most nearly connected with the ancient Ṛishis being then added)” (Monier-
Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 693). The statement by Monier-Williams that pravara-s contain “4
or 5” names is inaccurate, as such designations contain anywhere from 1 to 5 r̥ṣi names, but typically 3 or 5.
Brough explains that the rule of pravara exogamy was created because the term gotra “had become elastic
in its usage”. In some works gotra was “applied to families and subfamilies as frequently as to the exogamous
clans”. The pravara offered a “clear and precise method of determining a man’s position in the exogamous
structure” (Early Brahminical System of Gotra and Pravara, 6–7).
I use the term piṇḍa here in its abstract sense of an ‘offering’ or a ‘body’, which differs from the lexical
analysis given in the smr̥ti as the compound sapiṇḍa.
The िप ड piṇḍa is “a ball of rice or flour &c. offered to the Pitṛis or deceased ancestors, a Śrāddha oblation”
and also connotes “the body, bodily frame” (Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 625).

along the patriline from an individual to his father and grandfather and descends three gener-

ations from an individual to his son and grandson. In its conceptualization as shared bodily

essence the sapiṇḍa relationship ascends and descends seven generations along an individ-

ual’s patriline and five on the matriline. Individuals sharing a relative along this extent on

the patriline and matriline are considered sapiṇḍa because they are perceived of as sharing

the same corporeal essence as that relative.

Thomas Trautmann refers to the gotra as a “sociocentric or public” facet of brahminical

kinship, that is, it forms the basis of the relationship between an individual and the broader

kin group to which he belongs. On the other hand, Trautmann interprets sapiṇḍa to be

an “egocentric” aspect of kinship because is it determined by one’s relationship to another

particular individual within a limited sphere of relatedness.21 The external and internal as-

pects of an individual Brahmin’s kin relationships are, therefore, based upon commonality

of gotra, pravara, and piṇḍa. Consequently, the rules of Brahmin marriage as specified in

the smr̥ti prohibit marriage between individuals who are sagotra, sapravara, and sapiṇḍa.

Or stated conversely, the rules of marriage mandate that a bride and groom do not share

common gotra and pravara (asāmāna-arṣa gotrajā), that they be at minimum five times

removed on the mother’s side (mātr̥taḥ pañcamāt), and seven times removed on the father’s

side (pitr̥taḥ saptamāt). These requirements are obligatory for a marriage to be legitimate;

a breach of these rules nullifies the marriage. P. V. Kane explains the rationale for the

restrictions against marriage within the three categories of consanguinity as follows:

Trautmann, Dravidian Kinship, 246.

It is a canon of the Pūrvamīmāṁsā that if there is a seen (dṛṣṭa) or easily perceptible
reason for a rule stated in the sacred texts, it is only recommendatory and a breach
of such a rule does not nullify the principle act. But if there is an unseen (adṛṣṭa)
reason for a rule and there is a breach of such a rule, the principle act itself is rendered
invalid and nugatory thereby. The rule about not marrying a woman who is diseased
or who has superfluous or deficient limbs has a seen reason viz. marriage with such
a girl causes unhappiness (if she is diseased) or comment (if she has deficient limbs).
Therefore, if a person marries such a girl the marriage is perfectly valid. But there is
no seen or easily perceptible reason for the prohibition against marrying a sagotra or
sapravara girl. Therefore, such rules go to the root of the matter and are obligatory
and, if there is a breach of them, the marriage is no marriage, it is null and void. So
even if a person goes through a ceremony of marriage with a girl who is a sagotra or
sapravara or sapiṇḍa (within prohibited degrees) she does not become his wife at all.22

Trautmann expands upon Kane’s explanation, offering that “if there is no ‘seen’ reason

for the rule, we are obliged to assume an ‘unseen’ (adṛṣṭa) causal connection between the

rule and its effect, that is a delayed effect that may appear only in a subsequent life in obedi-

ence to the law of karma.”23 He further states that “the existence of an unseen reason allows

us to posit for such a rule the existence of a genuine Vedic injunction (vidhi) or prohibition

(niṣedha) that gives it authority, even if no such Vedic text is now extant.”24 In other words,

transgressions of “unseen” rules are considered especially heinous because, first, they con-

travene Vedic injunctions, and secondly, there is no certainty that the offenders will be held

accountable for their violation during the present lifetime, because punishment for breach

of an “unseen” rule is governed by the operation of the equally “unseen” law of karma upon

these culpable persons. The explanations offered by Kane and Trautmann suggest that the

consequences of violating an adr̥ṣṭa rule regarding exogamy can be identified only when

there is tangible evidence that indicates a sagotra, sapravara, or sapiṇḍa relationship be-
Kane, History of Dharmaśāstra, vol. II, pt. I, 437–438.
Trautmann, Dravidian Kinship, 240.

tween two individuals. However, the philosophers of the Mimamsa school and authorities

on dharma do not mention the breach of an “unseen” rule might be detected or what might

constitute evidence of this nature. If such proof could even conceivably be produced, what

might then be the potential ramifications for a bride and groom who breach these adr̥ṣṭa

principles of law?

A popular legend that has long circulated within the Maithil Brahmin community pro-

vides some insight into the consequences of such a discovery: A paṇḍita named Harinātha

Upādhyāya lived in the village of Satadhara. One day while on her way to the temple the

wife of this paṇḍita was accosted by a man from the ‘untouchable’ Dusadh caste. On ac-

count of her chastity, the assailant died as he tried to seize her. Nevertheless, a rumor began

to spread that the paṇḍita’s wife had an improper encounter with an ‘untouchable’. “I have

not had an illicit relationship with an outcaste” (nāhaṃ cāṇḍālagāminī), she proclaimed

when asked about the incident. But, she was nonetheless asked to prove her innocence

by grasping a heated iron rod. If she were free from guilt, her hand would not burn. Her

resolution was shattered when the rod scorched her, but she knew her innocence and her

conscience compelled her to resolve the matter. She approached Lakkhimadevi, a learned

paṇḍitā and well-respected woman in the community, who advised her on the matter and

urged her to request a re-trial. A few days later, she reappeared before the court and reach-

ing again for the iron rod, she again declared “I have not had an illicit relationship with

anyone who is an outcaste”, but then added, “except for my husband” (nāhaṃ svapativy-

atirikta cāṇḍālagāminī). This time her hand did not burn. She had preserved her honor,

but challenged that of her husband. The community was shocked. How could Harinātha,

a scholar of the dharma, be an outcaste? An investigation revealed that he had married a

woman who was the daughter of a daughter of a cousin. The paṇḍita had become an out-

caste because he had chosen a near relative as a wife. Subsequently, it became known that

the marriages of other Brahmins in the community were also illegitimate. The news reached

Maharaja Harisimhadeva, who viewed the discovery as a threat to the fabric of the Brahmin

community. In order to prevent such an incident from occurring again, Harisimhadeva or-

dered all Brahmans within his realm to provide their family histories and appointed official

genealogists to maintain the records. Furthermore, he mandated that all Brahman marriages

be verified by the genealogers and approved by the king.25

The legend relates that Harinātha Upādhyāya had married a woman, who was insuffi-

ciently distant in terms of the proscribed degrees of permitted consanguinity. The breach

of exogamy, it seems, had gone unnoticed for quite a long time until the fateful day that its

effects became known. The legend suggests that the breach affected not only the paṇḍita,

but also his wife, who through the fate of her marriage was an accessory to the circum-

stance. After all, it was in the declaration of her innocence that she unknowingly uttered a

falsehood, the veracity of which became apparent when the iron rod burned her hand. Thus,

the “unseen” consequence of the illegitmate marriage ultimately became “seen” when the

wife truthfully declared that she had not had relations with any man who was an outcaste

other than her husband. The incident has been memoralized in the following verse:

Adapted from Rameshwar Singh, “Maithil Marriage”; Thakur, History of Mithila; Jha, Genealogies and
Genealogists of Mithila.

ग ौरो नयनाथक िहता त ां त ु तारापते ो ाहो मिटहािनसं कि ज ु ।
का वै पनः
ग ौरो हिरनाथक गृिहणी क ा त ु सा प मी बीधूतो गणनावशा जनास चा डािलनी ॥26

Nayanātha of Gaṅgaura had a daughter, who was married off to Tārāpati. His son
Maṭihāni had a daughter.
Harinātha from Gaṅgaura took that girl as a wife, who was related to him within the
fifth degree, and because she was therefore a relative, she was unworthy of maintaining
relationships with her own kin and was considered a cāṇḍālinī.

The result was that both Harinātha Upādhyāya and his wife had breached the codes of Brah-

min society and had become outcastes. It was, therefore, ‘in obedience to the law of karma’

that the adr̥ṣṭa transgressions had a dr̥ṣṭa effect upon Harinātha and the Brahmin com-

munity. Harinātha was a Brahmin by birth and profession, but according to the norms of

brahminical society in Mithila, he had become a non-Brahmin because he trangressed the

laws of marriage, moreover, his breach of conduct had gone undetected and had slipped

past the ‘sense-perception’ (pratyakṣa) of his community. In this way, Harinātha exem-

plified the anxieties of Patañjali. Harinātha had lost his status as a Brahmin and become a

cāṇḍāla in the eyes of his community. But, the legend states that the “unseen” trangres-

sion of Harinātha led to the discovery that other Brahmins had also contracted marriages

with consanguines. Whatever system the Brahmins of Mithila had been using for recording

their ancestries and for verifying that marriages were being conducted in accordance with

the regulations of smr̥ti had failed to prevent the illegitimate marriage between Harinātha

and his wife. Moreover, following the legend it was possible that Brahmins had begun to
Jhā, Mithilā-tattva-vimarśa, 84. The verse as presented by Jhā has a word ‘बी त’, which I have interpreted
as िबधूत’. The usage of ‘िब त’ is erroneous and there is no such word in Sanskrit; however, ‘िबधूत’, or the
Maithil pronunciation of ‘िवधूत’ (the shift of Sanskrit /v/ to /b/ is common in word-initial position in Maithili),
means ‘removed, discarded, abandoned, ‘relinquished’ and ‘the repelling of affection, repugnance’ (Monier-
Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 968), and fits the context of the verse.

entirely disregard the smr̥ti altogether. Whatever be the case, the king decided that a new

mechanism of recording genealogies was necessary in order to preserve the ‘Brahminhood’

of the Brahmins of his kingdom.

1.3 Genealogy and Marriage

Based upon the depth and breadth of some of the recorded lineages and the detailed informa-

tion collected not only upon the relationships between individuals and lineages, but upon

the attributes of specific individuals, it is likely that the carrying out of pañjī prabandha

was a significant personal event for the Brahmins of Mithila. It is said that all Brahmins in

the kingdom were asked to report their paternal and maternal ancestries. The information

collected was compiled and became the basis of the official genealogical record, which was

known as the mūla pañjī, or the ‘ancestral record’ of every Brahmin male in the community.

In addition to these primary pañjī records, there is a gotra pañjī attached to the beginning

of the mūla pañjī, which is a brief classification of lineages according to gotra. Another

record is the uteṛha pañjī, which is an enumeration of the ancestral details of a particular

individual and is used primarily in the selection of a marriage partner. Those Brahmins

whose genealogies were recorded were known as pañjī-baddha or ‘bound in the registry’

or simply ‘registered’.

The pañjī prabandha codified that marriages must be made with regard to the following

six considerations: a bride must not be 1) a sagotra or 2) sapravara, or 3) a sapiṇḍa of

the mother or 4) a sapiṇḍa of the father, additionally she must not be related to anyone

descended from 5) her maternal grandfather or 6) her paternal grandfather, and she must not

be 7) related to a step-mother of the groom. To these seven the pañjī prabandha introduced

a new exogamous principle based upon the mūla. The mūla is the foundational principle

in the social organization of the Brahmins of Mithila called the mūla, a term that has the

sense of an “origin”.27 It is is a named agnatic lineage that is subordinate to the gotra and

all mūla-s that belong to a gotra are by extension sagotra (the mūla is discussed in the next

chapter). The genealogical records are organized according to the mūla. The mūla is a

named is an agnatic lineage that descends from the apical ancestor, who is known as the

viji purūṣa ‘primal individual’.28 The mūla is subordinate to the gotra and all mūla-s that

belong to a gotra are by extension sagotra. The mūla pañjī records the ancestry of each

Brahmin. It also records each marriage by specifying the mūla of each maternal patrline

marrying into an agnatic lineage. Below is an excerpt taken from the mūla pañjī of the

Khauāla mūla belonging to the Kāśyapa gotra:

ु महो वाच ित महो उँमापित ॥ (१२७/०५) वा-

[...] खौआल सं िबिज महामहोपा य जापित सतौ
ु गणपित धनौज सं ि परिर
च ित सतौ ु शिशधर (२१/०४) लि धर सरान
ु दौ ॥ गणपित सता ु धम-
ु गदाधरः मराड़ सं रिव दौ ॥ [...]
िधकरिणक महामहोपा य (०३/०५) हिरश णाः ॥ शिशधर सतौ
ु महमहो नयपािण महो हिरपािण म आसं िभखम दौ ॥ महो हिरपािन सतौ
गदाधर सतौ ु ल ीपािण र -
ु महो हरािद
पािण उदनपरु जिजवाल सं शाि कर दौ ॥ [...] महामहो र पािण सता महामहो भवािद
महामहो नयािद महामहो धरािद ग ोली सं वंशधर दौ ॥ [...]29

The founder of the Khauāla mūla is mahāmahopādhyāya Prajāpati, his sons are ma-
hopādhyāya Vācaspati and mahopādhyāya Umāpati (127/05). The son of Vācaspati is
Gaṇapati, who married the daughter of Tripurari of Dhanauja mūla. The four sons of
Gaṇapati are Śaśidhara (14/04), Lakṣmīdhara, Surānanda, and the dharmadhikaraṇika

Sanskrit mūla “root”.
Maithili िविज प ु ष “primal individual” < Sanskrit बीज bīja “seed” + प ु ष purūṣa “man”; refers to “the
progenitor of a tribe or family” (Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 732).
Mūla Pañjī written by Pañjīkara Paṇḍita Modanānda Jhā, folio 203.

mahāmahopādhyāya Hariśarmmaṇā. The son of Śaśidhara is Gadādhara, who mar-
ried the daughter of Ravi of Marāṛa mūla [...] The sons of Gadādhara are mahāma-
hopādhyāya Nayapāṇi and mahopādhyāya Haripāṇi. Haripāṇi married the daughter
of Bhikama of Mahuā mūla. The sons of Haripāṇi are Lakṣmīpāṇi and Ratnapāṇi.
Ratnapāṇi married the daughter of Sāntikara of Jajivāle-Udanapura mūla-grāma. The
four sons of mahāmahopādhyāya Ratnapāṇi are mahopādhyāya Harāditya, mahāma-
hopādhyāya Bhāvāditya, mahāmahopādhyāya Nayāditya, and mahāmahopādhyāya
Dharāditya. Dharāditya married the daughter of Vaṃśadhara of Gaṅgolī mūla [...]30

From the mūla pañjī we learn that the viji purūṣa of Khauāla is Prajāpati and that two

main sub-lineages began from him through his two sons Vācaspati and Umāpati. All present

members of the Khauāla mūla are descendants of these two individuals. Although the record

enumerates every male in each generation, it is evident that the focus of the excerpt is upon

the lineage that proceeds from Prajāpati through Vācaspati and his sons and ends, by my

editorial choice, with Dharāditya. The segment not only shows Dharāditya’s agnatic lin-

eage along an ascent of eight generations, but also provides details on his cognatic ancestry

through reference to all of the marriages of his direct ascendants that led to his birth (ex-

cept those of Prajāpati and Vācaspati, which I discuss later in the chapter). With regard to

the affinal descendants we see that Dharāditya’s great-great-great-grandfather Gaṇapati’s

father-in-law belongs to the Dhanauja mūla. His great-grandfather Gadādhara’s father-in-

law is of the Marāṛa mūla. His grandfather Haripāṇi’s father-in-law is of Mahuā mūla. His

father Ratnapāṇi’s father-in-law is of Jajivāla mūla. Were we to examine the mūla pañjī

further, we would see the genealogies of all males of the Khauāla mūla descending from

Prajāpati and their affinal relationships shown in a similar fashion. The mūla pañjī reveals

Several abbreviations and other shorthand conventions are used in the pañjī. Some of these are: saṃ =
saṃbhūta ‘arisen from’; suta ‘son’, sutau, ‘two sons’, sutā = ‘more than three sons’; dau = duhitr̥ ‘daughter’;
ddau = dauhitrī ‘grand-daughter’; maho = mahopādhyāya, mahāmaho = mahāmahopādhyāya. The inline
numerical references point to locations in the record where a particular lineage is described in greater detail.

that affinal relationships are recorded in terms of the patrilines brought together by mar-

riage. It is not the name of the bride that is shown, but the name of the bride’s father and

his mūla. In some cases, the bride’s father’s father-in-law (or, the bride’s maternal grand-

father) and his mūla is listed as well. The bride is simply mentioned as the ‘daughter’ of

a mūla. This method signifies that the general emphasis of the pañjī is upon the recording

of the mūla; the naming of individuals along a particular patriline is simply to provide a

convenient means for identifying the points at which a mūla intersects with another.

In addition to indicating affinal relationships between the Khauāla and other mūla-s,

the genealogy of Dharāditya clearly specifies all of his sapiṇḍa relationships. The line of

descent from Prajāpati to Dharāditya shows a depth of eight generations, but as sapiṇḍatā

is limited to seven generations ascending and descending from ego, Dharāditya’s sapiṇḍa

relationship in his patriline ends at Vācaspati. The completeness of the Khauāla genealogy

permits the pañjīkara to accurately determine whether the selection of a potential bride from

a different mūla abides by the rules laid down in Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.53 that she be “five

times removed on the mother’s side” (mātr̥taḥ pañcamāt) and “seven times removed on

the father’s side” (pitr̥taḥ saptamāt). When the record indicates that Dharāditya’s maternal

grandfather is Śāntikara of the Jajivāla mūla, it is clear that his mother was not related to

his father Ratnapāṇi within five generations of his own maternal grandfather Bhikama of

Mahuā mūla, and bore no relationship to any descendant of the Khauāla mūla within the

seven generations extending from Ratnapāṇi to Prajāpati. Similarly, the eight generations

recorded for Dharāditya are one more than the seven required by the smr̥ti along the patriline

for the arrangement of his own marriage. Thus, when the record states that Dharāditya’s

father-in-law is Vaṃśadhara of the Gaṅgolī mūla, it is clear that Vaṃśadhara’s daughter

bore no relationship to Dharāditya’s father within seven generations or to his mother within

five generations. As gotra is implied in the mūla designation, it is also established that all

of the affinal ancestors of Dharāditya belonged to gotra-s other than Kāśyapa.

As the pañjī records were formally maintained in order to ensure that marriages were

made with regard to the rules of exogamy, it is expected that the records would contain

information that would enable a pañjīkara to determine with ease if two individuals have

a pre-existing relationship within the prohibit bounds of consanguinity. In order to specify

the sapiṇḍa relationships of an individual absolutely clearly, such information is recorded in

a document called the uteṛha pañjī. An uteṛha is a table that lists the sixteen male ancestors

of a Brahmin up to the sixth generation,31 consisting of the following individuals along the

patriline and matriline:

1. father’s paternal grandfather’s (pitāmaha) paternal grandfather

2. father’s paternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather (mātāmaha)
3. father’s paternal grandmother’s (pitāmahī) paternal grandfather
4. father’s paternal grandmother’s maternal grandfather

5. father’s maternal grandfather’s paternal grandfather

6. father’s maternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather
7. father’s maternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather
8. father’s maternal grandmother’s maternal grandfather

9. mother’s paternal grandfather’s paternal grandfather

10. mother’s paternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather
11. mother’s paternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather

Maithili उतेढ़ < Sanskrit उ ीण uttīrṇa. The sense conveyed by the term uttīrṇa is that the potential bride
is ‘beyond’ the prohibited boundaries of relationship with the groom. However, in modern Maithili, uteṛha
refers generically to a “genealogy” or “family tree” (Jha, Kalyani Kosh, 66).

12. mother’s paternal grandmother’s maternal grandfather
13. mother’s maternal grandfather’s paternal grandfather
14. mother’s maternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather
15. mother’s maternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather
16. mother’s maternal grandmother’s maternal grandfather

The uteṛha, also known in colloquial Maithili as chaṭṭi ‘the sixth’,32 contains the mūla and

name of each of these sixteen male ancestors along with that of each ancestor’s father-in-

law. In this way, the uteṛha actually records the ancestors of an individual through to the

seventh generation to an extent of 32 male ancestors (see figure 1.1); but, it truly shows 64

ancestors when the wives of each male are taken into account. By extending to the seventh

generation, the uteṛha visibly shows any relatedness that falls within the boundaries of six

times on the father’s side and five times on the mother’s side.

The principles of mūla and sapiṇḍa exogamy are the foundation of the marriage regu-

lations instituted by pañjī prabandha. When a marriage is to be contracted, the pañjīkara

compares the uteṛha of the boy with those of various potential brides in order to determine

any existing relationship within the prohibited boundaries. Girls who pass the test of the

sixteen ancestors are recorded by the pañjīkara in an official list known as an adhikāra

mālā ‘certificate of permission’. The document contains the mūla-s and names of the each

girl’s father and maternal grandfather. It serves as evidence that all potential brides are au-

thorized to marry the groom according to the regulations. When the groom’s family selects

a bride from the adhikāra mālā, the pañjīkara issues an asvajana patra ‘statement of no

relationship’ that formally declares that no prohibited relationship exists between the bride
The “six degrees of relationship from father’s or mother’s side within which marriage is not allowed”
(Jha, Kalyani Kosh, 215).

and groom. If a decision to formalize the marriage is made, the pañjīkara petitions the king

to approve the marriage. If the king approved he would sign a siddhānta patra ‘marriage

permit’. Upon the issuance of this permit, the pañjīkara would call the parties of the bride

and groom together and publicly recite the pañjī of both lineages to a degree of six gen-

erations. After the actual marriage ceremony, the marriage would then be recorded in the


On the other hand, the consequences for conducting an unauthorized marriage were

quite heavy. If a marriage took place without consulting the pañjīkara, the two families

involved in the trangression would be censured through excommunication. Although there

are no rules specifying its nature, excommunication generally meant that interactions with

close kin and the larger Brahmin community would cease and, more importantly, the mar-

riage would not be recorded in the pañjī, even if the bride and groom were sufficiently

distant in terms of consanguinity. Social exclusion may be considered self-enforcing. The

erasure of the marriage from the genealogies meant that the marriage was no marriage at

all. The couple might start a family and have children, but any children born of the union

would be considered illegitimate and they would also be excluded from registration in the

genealogies. As a result, these offspring would be prohibited from marrying within the

community. Moreover, the breach of conduct would affect the families of the bride and

groom as the marriage prospects for their siblings would considerably diminish. In terms

of the pañjī, the denial to recognize the lineage of the groom in question means that he and

his descendants would not be considered part of the Maithil Brahmin community. The cou-

ple might migrate outside of Mithila, but there is no certainty that they would be accepted

as Brahmins wherever they chose to settle. Would the Brahmins of the new locality extend

privileges of dining, marriage, and other social interactions to them?33 After all, there is

no way of truly knowing if the migrants from afar are Brahmin, especially since there is no

record that proves the Brahmin parentage of either the couple or their offspring and no way

of ‘cognizing the caste of the progenitors’.

1.4 Genealogy and Personhood

The presence of a Brahmin in the genealogies means that his ‘Brahminhood’ is attested and

verifiable. The basis of this validity is the association between a Brahmin and his mūla.

The classification of individuals according to lineage and the usage of official genealogies

for organizing marriages suggest that the authorities responsible for pañjī prabandha had

given thought to the question of how to define the identity of a Brahmin within a larger con-

cept of a community of Brahmins. To be sure, the pañjī system reveals that the notions of

Brahmin personhood and kin-group membership are based upon an enhanced interpretation

of the role of sapiṇḍa in the definition of kin and community in Mithila. Indeed, two cen-

turies prior to pañjī prabandha, a scholar named Vijñāneśvara from what is now part of the

borderland of the modern Indian states of Karnataka and Maharashtra wrote a commentary

Adrian Mayer relates the case of families in Malwa in central India, who moved there from north India
and had settled in a village for two generations: “the newcomers said they were Brahmans, but nobody would
eat from them lest their claim be false.” People are hesitant, he explains, because there were “many attempts
to change caste status” by moving to an area where one is not known, and villagers are vigilant “having
been caught before” (Caste and Kinship in Central India, 27). Impersonation of a Brahmin, it seems, was

on the Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti that is known as Mitākṣarā.34 The Mitākṣarā introduced a signifi-

cant redefinition of sapiṇḍa, which has since remained the predominant interpretation of the

concept.35 Before Vijñāneśvara wrote his commentary, sapiṇḍa referred specifically to the

relationship between individuals of an agnatic lineage that is established by their privilege

to offer or receive funeral oblations known as piṇḍa. Vijñāneśvara saw a deeper connec-

tion between sets of individuals and the piṇḍa that bound them together. He interpreted

piṇḍa as a corporeal essence, or as “blood particles” as described by the legal scholar J.

G. Gharpure.36 Vijñāneśvara presents his view of piṇḍa in his commentary on Yājñavalkya

Smr̥ti 1.52, which states that a bride should be an asapiṇḍa of the groom. He writes:

असिप डां समान एकः िप डो देहो य ाः सा सिप डा न सिप डा असिप डा ताम ।् सिप डता च ए-
कशरीरावयवा येन भवित । तथािह प ु िपतृशरीरावयवा येन िप ा सह । एवं िपतामहािदिभरिप
िपतृ ारेण त रीरावयवा यात ।् एवं मातृशरीरावयवा येन मा ा । तथा मातामहािदिभरिप मातृ ारेण
ु ािदिभर
। तथा मातृ सृमातल ए् कशरीरावयवा यात ।् तथा िपतृ िपतृ ािदिभरिप । तथा प ास-
हप ा एकशरीरार कतया । एवं ातृभायाणामिप पर रमेकशरीरर ैः सहैकशरीरार क ने । एवं
य य सिप डश त सा ा र रया वा एकशरीरावयवा यो वेिदत ः ।37

A-sapiṇḍâ, not a sapiṇḍâ; Samânaḥ ‘common’ i.e. one piṇḍa body of a whom, that
(one) is Sapiṇḍâ; not a Sapiṇḍâ is an a-sapiṇḍâ; such a one (he should marry).

Sapiṇḍa relationship arises (between two people) through (their) being connected by
particles of one body. Thus the son stands in sapiṇḍa relationship to his father, be-
cause the particles of his father’s body having entered (his.) In like manner (stands)
the grandson in sapiṇḍa relationship) to his paternal grandfather and the rest, because
through his father, particles of his (grandfather) body have entered into (his own). Just
so is the son (a sapiṇḍa relation) of his mother, because particles of his mother’s body
have entered into his own. Likewise (the grandson stands in sapiṇḍa relationship), to
his maternal grandfather and the rest, through his mother. So also (is the nephew) a
sapiṇḍa relation of his maternal aunts and uncles and the rest, because particles of the

Kane, History of Dharmaśāstra, vol. I, pt. II, 605, 609, 610.
The exception, of course, is Jīmūtavāhana’s retention of the original meaning in the Dāyabhāga (Kane,
History of Dharmaśāstra, vol. I, pt. II, 599).
Gharpure, Sâpiṇḍya, 3.
Mitākṣarā (Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 13–14).

same body (the maternal grandfather) have entered into (his and theirs); likewise (does
he stand in a sapiṇḍa relationship) with his paternal uncles and aunts and the rest.

So also the wife and the husband (are sapiṇḍa relations to each other), because they
together beget one body (the son). In like manner, brother’s wives are (also sapiṇḍa
relations to each other), because they produce one body (the son) with those (severally)
who have sprung from one body i.e. because they bring forth the sons by their union
with the offspring of one person, and thus their husband’s father is the common bond
which (connects them). Therefore, one ought to know that wherever the word Sapiṇḍa
is used, there exists (between the persons to whom it is applied) a connection with one
body either immediate or by descent.38

Vijñāneśvara’s definition transformed the piṇḍa from being a sacramental object shared

by a group of individuals ascending and descending along an agnatic lineage to a bodily

essence that an individual shares with a group of relatives on both the paternal and material

sides. Trautmann writes that “[t]he examples Vijñāneśvara has given are sufficient to show

that ... in the definition of sāpiṇḍya all cognates, collaterals as well as lineal, directly or

indirectly related are included, without as yet being bounded or internally graded by the

principle of propinquity.”39 By itself, the definition allows for an almost infinite scope of

relatedness between individuals such that, theoretically, at some level all of humanity is

infused with the same corporeal particles of a common primordial ancestor. Vijñāneśvara

acknowledges the possibility that “sapiṇḍa relationship exists everywhere among all indi-

viduals in the world”.40 But, he states that there is a limit to the relationship and concurs

with the boundaries set in Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.53, which specifies that sapiṇḍa ceases “be-

yond the fifth generation on the mother’s side and beyond the seventh generation on the

Gharpure, Sâpiṇḍya, 5–6.
Trautmann, Dravidian Kinship, 249.
Mitākṣarā: असिप डािम क ै शरीरावयवा य ारेण सा ा र रया वा सािप म ु ं त सव सव यथाकथंिचदनादौ संसारे
संभवती ि स [...] (Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 15).

father’s side.”41 A clear picture emerges of the sapiṇḍa paradigm of relatedness after Vi-

jñāneśvara draws the maximum extent of its influence. The lines of cessation, Trautmann

explains, make it “abundantly clear that an individual’s sapiṇḍas, within the limits of seven

degrees on the father’s side and five degrees on the mother’s side, comprise all cognates

lineal as well as collaterial, and at least some affines as well.”42 In addition to the biological

aspect of the piṇḍa, Vijñāneśvara’s definition is significant because, as Trautmann states,

he “introduced a new version of a shared body: that which exists between husband and wife

not by virtue of common descent but through their collaboration in the procreation of a sin-

gle body, that is, the child (ekaśarīrārambhakatā).”43 Through this innovation of a ‘single

body’ Vijñāneśvara establishes the piṇḍa as a new basis of personhood.

Gharpure and Trautmann have termed Vijñāneśvara’s view of sapiṇḍa as ‘artificial’44

and ‘forced’45 because it gave a significance to the concept that did not previously inhere

within it. Vijñāneśvara’s biological interpretation of piṇḍa certainly is a departure from the

original connection of the concept with the śrāddha, or the sacrament of offering oblations

to departed ancestors.46 However, despite its artificiality, the new definition was readily

accepted by scholars of dharma after its dissemination in the 12th century. The sense of

sapiṇḍa as connoting a physical connection between individuals grounds the texts written

Mitākṣarā: मातृतो मातःु संतान े प मा िपतृतः िपतःु संतान े स मा सािप ं िनवतत इित शेषः । (Panśīkar, Yādnyava-
lkyasmṛiti, 15).
Trautmann, Dravidian Kinship, 249.
Ibid., 249–250.
Gharpure, Sâpiṇḍya, 2.
Trautmann, Dravidian Kinship, 250.
Vijñāneśvara is adamant about his view. In addressing the issue that the meaning of piṇḍa be re-
stricted to the offering, he states “िनवा िप डा येन त ु सािप े ऽ ीि यमाणे मातृसतं ान े ातृिपतृ ािदष ु च सािप ं न ात ।् ”
(Mitākṣarā: Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 14).

by dharma authorities in Mithila around the time of pañjī prabandha, particularly with

regard to marriage practices and inheritance. Among these is Caṇḍeśvara Ṭhakkura, who

was a powerful individual in the Karṇāṭa court and served as the mahāsāndhivigrahika, or

the ‘Minister of Peace and War’,47 of king Harisimhadeva.48 The rules regarding sapiṇḍa

exogamy in marriage in 14th century Mithila are specified quite clearly by Caṇḍeśvara in his

Gr̥hastaratnākara. At the outset of the section titled ‘Vivāhyāvivāhyakanyānirūpaṇa’, or

‘Marriage, Non-Marriage, and the Attributes of a Bride’, he quotes Manusmr̥ti 3.5, stating

that a woman must be an asapiṇḍa and an asagotra of a man on both the mother’s and

father’s side in order to become his wife.49 He then offers the following explanation of

sapiṇḍa relationships:

ु िह ािद ो अ ा असिप डेित समान ए् कः िप डो देहो य ाः सा सिप डा न तथा

मातरु सिप डा मातल
असिप डा सिप डता च एकशरीरावयवा येन भवित । तथािह प ु िपतृशरीरावयवा येन िप ा सह
। एवं िपतामहािदिभरिप िपतृ ारेण शरीरावयवा तः । एवं मातृशरीरावयवा येन मा ा तथा मातामहा-
िदिभरिप मातृ ारेण । तथा मातृ सृमातल े शरीरावयवा यात त् था िपतृ
ु ािदिभर क ािदिभरिप । तथा
प ा सह प ा एकशरीरार कतया एवं ातृभायाणामिप एकशरीरार कै ः पितिभः सहैकशरीरार-
क ने । एवं य सिप डश सा ा र रया एकशरीरावयवा येन ये इित िमता राकारः।50

The daughter of a maternal uncle and such other females are the sapiṇḍa of a mother;
she who has particles of a common, shared body is a sapiṇḍa; therefore, she who is
‘not a sapiṇḍa’ is an ‘asapiṇḍa’. The sapiṇḍa relationship (sapiṇḍatā) is established
through the connection of particles of one body. So, a son is related to a father through
the particles of the father’s body. As well as to the paternal grandfather through the
bodily particles of the father. And the son is related to the mother through the particles
of the mother’s body, as well as to the maternal grandfather through the bodily particles

Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 1145.
From the colophon following the ‘Gārhasthya’ section of the Gr̥hastharatnākara: इित महामहे महाराजािधराज
ीहिरिसंहदेव महासाि िव िहक वीरे रा ज स ि य महासाि िव िहक ीच डे रिवरिचते गृह र ाकरे गाह तर (Kamalakṛṣṇa
Smṛtitīrtha, Gṛhastha-ratnākara, 6).
Manusmr̥ti 3.5: असिप डा च या मातरु सगो ा च या िपतःु । सा श ा ि जातीनां दारकमिण मैथनु े ॥ (Jolly, Mânava
Dharma-Śâstra, 40). As Caṇḍeśvara cites the verse in isolation, he quotes it beginning असिप डा त ु instead of
the original असिप डा च, in which the च links the present verse to that which precedes it in the text.
Kamalakṛṣṇa Smṛtitīrtha, Gṛhastha-ratnākara, 8.

of the mother. And to the mother’s sister and others through the bodily particles of the
maternal grandfather. The same pertains to the father’s sister and others. A husband
and wife are connected through the creation of a single body; similarly, a brother and
his wife are connected through the creation of a single body. Therefore, the word
sapiṇḍa is to be known as a connection through one body, either immediate or by
descent, says the writer of the Mitākṣarā.

In describing sapiṇḍa Caṇḍeśvara cites the writer of the Mitākṣarā nearly verbatim. It is

clear, therefore, that Caṇḍeśvara accepted Vijñāneśvara’s new definition of the concept.

This new interpretation of sapiṇḍa as a relationship between individuals shared through

bodily particles continued to gain traction among the dharma scholars of Mithila. Two

hundred years after Caṇḍeśvara, a nibandhakara named Maheśa Ṭhakkura offered his views

on sapiṇḍa in the Dāyasāra, which describes the customs of inheritance. In the section titled

‘Sapiṇḍalakṣaṇa’, or the ‘Characteristics of Sapiṇḍa’, he states the following:

समानं िप डो येषां ते सिप डा । स शरीरं त ं ग ि षिद । अि ायमु ानः िपतृत ांस िध-
ं शरीरं भवित । प ीना ु प ा समं अि िभर ीिन इ ािद िु तबलादेव
रािण मातृत इित िपतृमा श
सिप डता एव ा सा ा रंपरासाधारणिमदं सािप ं सा पौ षं वीिजनमिप ा स प ु षाः वं याः
सिप डाः । दशमप ु षं याव कु ाः तद रं गो जाः ।51

She who shares a body in common is known as ‘Sapinda’. According to the Garb-
hopaniṣad it consists of seven bodies. Bones, nerves, and sinews from the father and
skin, flesh, and blood from the mother; the body is made out of parts of the mother
and father. Through the authority of śruti, the sapiṇḍa relationship is said to arise on
account of the bones, etc. of the wife and husband coming together either through im-
mediate relationship or by descent; the sapiṇḍa relationship extends seven generations
to the ancestor and seven generations descending in one’s own lineage. Ten genera-
tions constitutes the same kula and after that the rest are considered to be related on
account of shared gotra.

Maheśa Ṭhakkura, “Dāyasāra,” 127. The author’s use of the phrase स शरीरम ‘् seven bodies’ is curious and
is suggestive of a scribal or editoral error. Perhaps स प ु षम ‘् seven generations’ was intended, but this would
not make sense in the given context. The author likely intended to write ष ौिशकम ‘् six sheaths’, which make
up the body of the child. It is not clear to which ‘seven bodies’ the phrase refers. Also, म ा ‘marrow’ may
be an error in transliterating the original manuscript written in the Tirhuta script into Devanagari. The correct
spelling is म ा. The confusion of the Tirhuta graph for Sanskrit ja and the regular graph for ya is a common

It is apparent that Maheśa Ṭhakkura also accepted the new definition. He describes the core

of the sapiṇḍa relationship as being based upon the transmission of bodily particles, but it

seems that Maheśa Ṭhakkura was also interested in conveying the physical characteristics

of the ‘shared body’. Although he does not cite the reference, his description is drawn from

another portion of Vijñāneśvara’s commentary on Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.52:

अव यं च ैकशरीरावयवा येन सािप ं वणनीयम ।् आ ा िह ज आ नः इ ािद तु ःे । तथा -

जामन ु जायसे इित च । स एवायं िव ढः े ोपल ते इ ाप
ण वचना । तथा गभ पिनषिद
एतत ष् ा ौिशकं शरीरं ीिण िपतृत ीिण मातृतोऽि ायमु ानः िपतृत ास िधरािण मातृतः इित
त त ावयवा य ितपादनात ।् 52
The sapiṇḍa relationship is certainly to be described by the entering of the particles of a
common body. Because on account of the Śruti (Aitareya Brâhmaṇa VII.13.6) — “(In
him) the self is born out of self.” Thus also Tait[tirîya] Br[âhmaṇa] I.5.5.6). “Thus thou
art born again in thy offspring.[”] So also is the text of Âpastamba (II.9.24.2): “Now
it can also be perceived by the senses that the father has been reproduced separately in
the son.” So also in the Garbha Upaniṣad: — “Of this body consisting of six sheaths,
three are from the father, and the three from the mother. The bones, the nerves, and
the marrow are from the father; the skin, the flesh and the blood are from the mother.”
In all these passages, the entering of the particles of the body is being demonstrated.53

Maheśa Ṭhakkura, however, extends the discussion by placing sapiṇḍa within a social con-

text. He explains that the sapiṇḍa relationship persists through the seventh generation as-

cending and descending along the agnatic lineage, and that these seven along with the ad-

jacent three generations to the tenth are known as sakulya or ‘of the same family’, and that

those beyond the tenth generation are gotraja or ‘born of the same gotra. In doing so he em-

beds the sapiṇḍa relationship within a definition of a kin group. The kin group is bounded at

the maximal extent by its gotra relationship, but at its core is the piṇḍa that is shared through

ancestors and descendants, which fades after the seventh generation. It is clear that Maheśa
Mitākṣarā (Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 14).
Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 95.

Ṭhakkura views piṇḍa as being overtly biological, agreeing with Vijñāneśvara, in that it is

constructed through parts of the bodies of the wife and husband, or rather, the mother and

father of a child. The description is short, but it shows an attempt to establish the relation-

ships between individuals within a kin group through the biological medium of the piṇḍa

instead of through the offerings made to ancestors. In fact, it is noteworthy that the origi-

nal definition of piṇḍa as a sacramental oblation is entirely absent in the ‘Sapiṇḍalakṣaṇa’

section of the Dāyasāra. It may be also noted that Maheśa Ṭhakkura does not mention

the mūla in the Dāyasāra. The likely explanation is that the text invokes sapiṇḍa within a

general discourse on the inheritance and partition of property, while the mūla is a matter of

deśavidhācāra specific to Mithila and may, in fact, be represented generically to an extent

through the concept of gotraja as all members of a mūla belong to the same gotra.

The treatment of sapiṇḍa by Caṇḍeśvara and Maheśa Ṭhakkura offers insights into the

acceptance of Vijñāneśvara’s new definition of the concept and its interpretation in Mithila

from the 14th through 16th centuries. It is possible, therefore, to see an ideology of the

personhood of a Brahmin in the pañjī system that is based upon Vijñāneśvara’s ideas of the

physical descent of individuals. The fundamental purpose of the pañjī prabandha was to

formalize genealogical record-keeping and marriage regulations for the purpose of main-

taining the proper order of the Brahmin community of Harisimhadeva’s kingdom in Mithila.

While marriages conducted in accordance with the regulations maintain the present order

of brahminical society, these marriages also determine the future order through the poten-

tial of producing future members of the jāti. As Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.90 states, “sons who

continue the lineage are born from faultless marriages”. In the ideology of the pañjī sys-

tem a son not only continues the minimal lineage of his father, but also the maximal mūla

lineage that was established by his earliest known ancestor. The strict procedures that de-

termine potential marriage partners according to the system is most clearly manifested in

the uteṛha pañjī, which shows a visual map of the sapiṇḍa and gotra relationships of an in-

dividual through thirty-two lineages up to the seventh generation. The purpose of this map

is to assist in identifying the limits of consanguinity. Placed within Vijñāneśvara’s physical

conceptualization of sapiṇḍa, the uteṛha pañjī shows the bounds outside of which a man

can choose a wife in order to collaborate in the creation of a new member of the jāti: the

ekaśarīrārambhakatā, or the ‘shared body’ that is the physical representation of the union

of two lineages.

The completeness of the pañjī records offers the potential for a Brahmin to identify

various categories of relationships specified in the smr̥ti. In addition to the ekaśarīrāra-

mbhakatā, Vijñāneśvara identifies other concepts of related that are based upon the notion

of sapiṇḍa a a corporeal body shared between groups of individuals. These are six other

sapiṇḍa relationships.54 The sānvaya sapiṇḍa is a relationship that exists between persons

according to lineal consanguinity, or direct descent or ascent. The cūḍāsaṃbandhānvaya or

avayava sapiṇḍa exists between persons related by lineal ascent or descent, particularly by

the ability of a person to perform the tonsure ceremony. A relationship that exists between

two persons who are not related by lineal ascent or descent, but by their descent from a com-

mon ancestor is known as mukhtāhāra sapiṇḍa, Another is the nirvāpya sapiṇḍa, which is
Gharpure, Sâpiṇḍya, 2–4.

a relationship established by the right to offer the funeral oblation. The sāpatna sapiṇḍa is

based upon the sharing of half bodily particles, such as that which exists between the sons

of a single father born from different mothers.55 There is also a conception of relatedness

that arises through adoption, which is known as dattaka sapiṇḍa. The pañjī also estab-

lishes knowledge of kin categories that are described in the smr̥ti-s as being amorphous. In

connection with the original meaning of piṇḍa as an offering to the deceased, Manu states

that the impurity associated with death attaches to sapiṇḍa-s for ten days and to a group of

agnates called the samānodaka-s for three days.56 A sapiṇḍa shares in the offering of the

piṇḍa, but a samānodaka offers only libations of water.57 Manu defines a samānodaka as an

agnatic relative beyond the seventh generation or up to the point “when the common origin

and the existence of a common family name are no longer known”.58 The pañjī resolves

the manner of not knowing the common name beyond a certain generation.

The importance of sapiṇḍa in the ideology of marriage in the pañjī system suggests

a renewed vision of brahminical personhood that is based upon the principle of heredity.

Recall that Kumārila Bhaṭṭa concluded that a child produced by a father of the same caste

as the mother cannot be said to be a ‘bastard’ even if the child is born outside of marriage.

Moreover, he states that the child would be a member of the caste of the parents. It would

be logical to apply the sapiṇḍa view of personhood to Kumārila’s conclusion. By exten-

sion, then, regardless of the marital status of his parents, a Brahmin child born of Brahmin
Gharpure, Sâpiṇḍya, 11.
Manu Smr̥ti 5.59: दशाहं शावमाशौचं सिप डेष ु िवधीयते । अवाक ् संचयनाद ां हमेकाहम ् एव वा ॥ (Jolly, Mânava
Dharma-Śâstra, 103).
Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 1160.
Manu Smr̥ti 5.60: सिप डता त ु प ु षे स मे िविनवतते । समानोदकभाव ु ज ना ोरवेदन े ॥ (ibid.). Translation adapted
from Bühler, The Laws of Manu, 178.

parents would also be an ekaśarīrārambhakatā. It appears that experts of the dharma had

considered the possibility that such a justification might arise. In response, they declared

that only a child born within a proper marriage between a man and woman of the same

varṇa was to be considered savarṇa or sajāti ‘of the same caste’ and, therefore, legitimate

(see Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.90, referenced above). These authorities accounted for offspring

born of legitimate and illegitimate unions, even of the same varṇa, by devising a classifi-

cation system for various types of sons. A sajāti or legitimate son is known as an aurasa.

On the other hand, a kuṇḍa is the son of a woman by another man of the same varṇa while

the husband is alive; a golaka is the offspring produced by a widow with a man of the same

varṇa; and a sahoḍaja is a son produced by a woman who is also married to another.59

These latter three Vijñāneśvara deems as being asavarṇa.60

With the above understanding, it is now possible to evaluate the deeper significance of

the legend of Harinātha Upādhyāya. The tale states that Harinātha had become an outcaste

because he violated the rules of marriage. The only evidence given in terms of explanation

is that he married a woman who was the daughter of his cousin’s daughter. In stating this,

the legend emphasizes that the illegitimacy of the marriage arose from sapiṇḍa endogamy.

We do not know the gotra of Harinātha’s wife, but we do know that as being the daughter

of the daughter of his cousin she was removed only four degrees from him and, therefore,

was a sapiṇḍa. As the marriage was illegitimate any children produced by Harinātha and

his wife would also be illegitimate. Although Kumārila stated that a child born outside of a

See Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 2.128–134 for a description of the twelve categories of sons.
Mitaksara: अत कु डगोलककानीनसहोढजादीनामसवण म ु ं भवित । (Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 28).

marital union between parents of the same caste would still be of that caste, it is very clear

that legitimacy of the child among the Brahmins of Mithila was dependent upon the child

being born to a married couple. Taking the legend a step outside of its narrative bounds, as

Harinātha’s violation of the rules went unnoticed, then his sons would also not have been

recognized as being born of an adulterous union, and the marriages of these sons within the

community would be that between a cāṇḍāla and a Brahmin girl and any offspring arising

from such a marriage would be not be a Brahmin, but also a cāṇḍāla. Recall that Kane

stated that “even if a person goes through a ceremony of marriage with a girl who is a

sagotra or sapravara or sapiṇḍa (within prohibited degrees) she does not become his wife at

all.” The importance of the restriction is conveyed in the Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti, which states

that “Though it has been said that a twice-born may take a wife from a Śûdra family, yet

that is not my opinion, because out of her, he is born himself”.61 The Manu Smr̥ti is even

more exacting regarding the union of a Brahmin and a Shudra. It states that a Brahmin who

takes a Shudra wife will “sink into hell” and that any child born of the union will “lose the

rank of a Brahmin”.62 That a Brahmin ‘is born himself’ through his wife means that a son

born of the wife is a representation of the father, and if a Brahmin produces a son with a

Shudra woman, then his son would not be a Brahmin and the lineage would be affected.

This verse is particularly significant as the opinion is stated in the grammatical first-person.

From the perspective of dharma the impact of such a situation would imperil the Brahmin
Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.56: य ते ि जातीनां शू ा ारोपसं हः । न ैत म मतं य ा ायं जायते यम ्॥ (Panśīkar, Yā-
dnyavalkyasmṛiti, 16). Translation adapted from Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 120. The importance may
be further evidenced by the fact that the verse is in the first person. To be sure, it is the only verse in in which
the author refers to himself in this way.
Manu Smr̥ti 3.17: शू ां शयनमारो ा णो या धोगितम ् । जनिय ा सतंु त ां ा यादेव हीयते ॥ (Jolly, Mânava
Dharma-Śâstra, 42).

community. It is, therefore, for the purpose of preventing marriages between Brahmins and

veritable ‘Non-Brahmins’ from bringing the community to ruin that Vijñāneśvara makes it

very clear: only a son produced by a Brahmaṇa man and a Brahmaṇa woman within a proper

marriage is a Brahmaṇa.63 The pañjī prabandha, then, established that only a Brahmin born

to a Brahmin man and a Brahmin woman in a marital union could be considered a legitimate

Brahmin. It also abolished the principles of jātyutkarṣa and jātyapakarṣa, or ‘the rise’ and

‘the fall’ of jāti-s, by which descendants of such mixed marriages might re-enter the varṇa.

The system mandated that Brahmin identity and personhood be based upon and derived

from an authorized marriage.

There is another aspect of the legend of Harinātha Upādhyāya that deserves to be ana-

lyzed with the context of Kumārila’s discourse. Recall that Kumārila stated that the ‘mis-

behavior’ of one woman does not apply to all women, because such an assumption is “di-

rectly contradictory to all ordinary experience” and “could never be valid” because “we

find that women of respectable families always try their very best to save their character.”

Harinātha’s oversight was identified because people accused his wife of having an illicit

relationship with an outcaste man. She burned her hand the first time when she stated that

she had no such relationship, but she did not burn her hand at the re-trial when she said, “I

have not had an illicit relationship with anyone who is an outcaste except for my husband”

(nāhaṃ svapativyatirikta cāṇḍālagāminī). The reasoning might be that if she were to have

Mitaksara: उ े न िविधनोढायां सवणायां वोढुः सवणा ा ा मानजातीया भवि । [...] ा णे ा याम ु ो ा ण इित
[...] (Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 28).

become pregant as a result of such an relationship, then Harinātha might have no idea that

the child was anything but a Brahmin, as both he and his wife were Brahmins.

1.5 Genealogical Foundations of Jāti

Genealogies are written in order to validate the present by affirming the past. They contain

details on the ancestry of an individual in order to establish his relationship with another

person, his association with a lineage, or membership in a particular social group. I propose

that the pañjī prabandha registered Brahmins and their ancestries not only to develop an un-

derstanding of their past, but primarily to establish a plan for their future. The pañjī system

began with recording the details of Brahmins who were present at the time of its inception.

The genealogies could do nothing about the existing marriages, but by understanding the

relationships between families and lineages, these records could provide information about

potential marriages. At the outset of this chapter I stated that the need for establishing the

identity of a Brahmin transcended the individual and encompassed the identity of larger

congregations of Brahmins. By recording individual Brahmins and grouping their ances-

tries into registered lineages, the pañjī prabandha created a community of known Brah-

mins. Furthermore, by requiring that marriages take place only between these lineages, the

pañjī records established a community of known families between which marriages were

either permissible or forbidden. In this sense, it may be claimed that the genealogies were

a community census that established membership in an endogamous group, or jāti or ‘caste

community’ of Brahmins. The system shaped the future of this group by regulating the re-

production of its members. This notion of a defined community of inter-marrying lineages

corroborates Vijñāneśvara’s view regarding the definition of a jāti, as is specified in his

commentary on Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.90:

नच ायिवरोधः । य ग ा जाितभवित त तथा । ा णािदजाित ु

िृ तल णा यथा -
रणं भवित । यथा समान ेऽिप ा ये कुि डनो विस ोि ग तम इित रणल णं गो म ्तथा मन ु े
समान ेऽिप ा यिदजाितः रणल णा । मातािप ो ैतदेव जाितल णम ।् 64

Nor is it opposed to reason, where caste (species, jâti) is cognisable by sensuous per-
ception, there it might be so [...] But the castes (jâti) like Brâhmaṇa &c, (is not a matter
of perception), but a matter of convention (known by Smṛiti), as has been traditioned,
(and a man gets a caste according to the Smṛiti direction). Thus, though all Brâhmaṇas
are equal, yet they have got various Gotras; as Kuṇḍinas, Vaśiṣtha, Atri, Gautama,
&c., known by tradition (smṛiti). So, though, all men are equal, yet the castes (jâti) of
Brâhmaṇas &c, are defined by tradition (smaraṇa).65

Vijñāneśvara states that the idea of a bounded community is “a matter of convention” and

that the differences between Brahmins is matter “known by tradition”. The formation of a

jāti from a community of identifiable Brahmins may be analyzed through existing studies

of kinship and caste. Pauline Kolenda offers a basic understanding as she writes that “a do-

mestic family combines with others to form a lineage” and a “large number of such lineages

belong to a clan or sib”.66 A collection of inter-marrying lineages, by extension, forms an

endogamous unit.67 This endogamous unit may be considered a jāti and, as Edward Blunt

states, “[t]he endogamous group, whether it be caste or sub-caste, is a factor of the great-

est importance in the caste system.”68 Ravindra Khare builds upon this basic definition in

his study of the Kanyakubja Brahmins of Uttar Pradesh. He writes that “[k]inship exem-
Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 28.
Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 185.
Kolenda, Caste in Contemporary India, 14.
Ibid., 18.
Blunt, The Caste System of Northern India, 47.

plifies the ascriptive solidarity group based on the involuntary single event of birth” and

that “[i]t is the most fundamental, basic, common, and automatic system of social relation-

ship.”69 Kinship “displays inherited as well as involuntary aspects of social relationships”

and, therefore, it “characterizes a ‘closed’ segment of social relations”.70 Khare then con-

nects kinship to caste by stating that caste “employs a kinship criterion and is viewed as

a closed system because the incorporation of new members is entirely by birth” and any

given caste is, therefore, “an ascriptive group”71 This ‘ascriptive group’ consists of two es-

sential social groupings: a non-marriageable kinship group of relatives and a marriageable

group of non-relatives. According to Khare, the kin and non-kin groups share an important

attribute: they both belong to the caste group “by sharing the same event (of birth)”.72 The

above assessment of the kinship foundations of caste are reflected in the ideology of the

pañjī system.

There is a cognitive limitation to the ‘ascriptive group’ described by Khare. He writes

that a “caste group’s nonkin zone is so large that it is impossible for a person to know all

his nonkin at the same time.”73 All members of a caste community belong to it by birth, but

the “increasing size” and “spatial disperson” serve to “severely curtail the actual knowledge

about nonkin caste members.”74 Khare does not discuss the ramifications of these limita-

tions, but I think that the issue deserves some attention because it pertains to the problem that

pañjī prabandha was established to address. The problems inherent in the lack of knowl-
Khare, The Changing Brahmans, 13.
Ibid., 14.

edge about one’s non-kin caste members may apply equally to members who are one’s kin,

especially if the ‘spatial disperson’ of families of a particular lineage or inter-married lin-

eages spans several generations. Knowledge about one’s own kin can easily fade when ge-

nealogies are not maintained properly or when knowledge of kin relations disappears when

those possessing it pass away. We do not know the circumstances that led Harinātha Upād-

hāyaya to marry a close relative, but the potential for such oversight exists when lineages

are dispersed. In such situations knowledge of gotra and pravara might eliminate a poten-

tial marital union, but sapiṇḍa avoidance requires information about one’s kin relations. By

placing the maintenance of genealogies in the hands of the state, king Harisimhadeva elim-

inated the potential for errors that may enter into genealogies maintained by each family.

On account of their institutionalization and centralization the pañjī records are a charter

for the Brahmin community of Mithila. First, they provide a complete record of the kin

and non-kin relations of each Brahmin registered in the system. Through the genealogies

a Brahmin can identify all of his sapiṇḍa, sakulya, samānodaka, and samūla relationships

(see figure 1.2). Through the uteṛha pañjī that is derived from the primary or mūla pañjī

a Brahmin knows all of the marriageable non-kin members of the community from which

he may select a bride. Second, it specifies the boundaries of the community through doc-

umentation of the fixed lineages between which marriages may take place. Third, it regu-

lates ascriptive membership in the community. In this sense it is possible to state that the

pañjī not only determines who is a Maithil Brahmin, but also determines potential future

members. By this, I mean that the birth of future Brahmins who would contribute to the

population of the community is regulated by the pañjī in terms of the bride and groom who

would be his parents. The ascriptive nature of Brahmin personhood arises from the son pro-

duced from the union of a Brahmin male and female. Furthermore, it may be stated that the

purpose of the pañjī prabandha was to ensure that the identity of the son, the ‘shared body’

or ekaśarīrārambhakatā born from the marital union of Brahmin parents is, as Kumārila

Bhaṭṭa suggested, “not an aggregate of penance”, nor “a certain purification brought about

by these”, but that his caste is “signified by the cognition of the caste of the parents” and,

therefore, his ‘Brahminhood’ is “cognisable directly by Sense-perception.”

1.6 Conclusion

The tropes about recognizing a ‘non-Brahmin’ may have been initially pedagogical, but

they evolved over time to reflect a real concern among Brahmins for confirming their own

identity and that of other Brahmins. As indicated by Śabara and Kātyāyana there was a

lack of assurance in using the senses to perceive a Brahmin based upon his physical char-

acteristics and conduct. Patañjali attempted to offer some suggestions, but in doing so he

unintentionally acknowledged the difficulties inherent such his an approach. The exam-

ples he gave for identifying conduct unbecoming of a true Brahmin are baseless: “a non-

Brahmin is he who urinates while standing” and “who eats while walking”.75 Moreover,

he takes the outward signs of ‘Brahminhood’ to a far extreme by asserting that that there is

one sure way of recognizing a ‘non-Brahmin’: “if a person were asked to find a Brahmin

Vyākaraṇa Mahābhāṣya 2.2.6: अ ा णोऽयं यि

75 ू यित । अ ा णोऽयं यो ग यित ॥ (Kielhorn, Vyâkaraṇa
Mahâbhâshya, vol. 1, 411).

in a certain place, a Brahmin unknown to the person searching, and if that person walks

into a market and sees someone sitting there, as black as a pile of beans, then one would

certainly know that the individual he encountered is not a Brahmin.”76 Patañjali’s analysis

is striking in that he conveys the possibility that the ability for positive ‘recognition’ may be

obtained through proper instruction, for he concludes his remarks on Pāṇini’s rule of nega-

tion by stating “the negative prefix a- arises from doubt (saṃdeha) and poor instruction

(durupadeśa)”.77 The inadequacies of using analysis of physical features in order to recog-

nize a Brahmin likely spurred further questions about Brahmin identity, ultimately leading

Kumārila Bhaṭṭa to conclude that birth was the surest means for doing so, especially when

verified by genealogical records.

The crisis faced by Harinātha Upādhyāya spurred Brahmins to reconsider the impor-

tance of genealogy. The pañjī records emerged as a response to a breach of law, which

although “unseen” had quite an impact upon brahminical societyonce its effects were made

known. Or, viewed from a different angle, the necessity of accurate records was addressed

by the creation of formal genealogies, which could serve as tangible, visible documentation

of the relationships of Brahmins. The pañjī prabandha eased the existential anxieties of

Brahmins by providing a means for verifying their identities and for facilitating marriages

between Brahmins, such that Brahmins could retain their ‘Brahminhood’ and also ensure

the same for their offspring. It is for this reason that the pañjī prabandha represents the ‘re-

birth’ of a Brahmin in Mithila. The concept of ‘rebirth’ is associated with the upanayana

Vyākaraṇa Mahābhāṣya 2.2.6: [...] न यं कालं माषरािशवणमापण आसीनं ा व ित ा णोऽयिमित । िन ातं त
भवित ॥ (Kielhorn, Vyâkaraṇa Mahâbhâshya, vol. 1, 411–412).
Vyākaraṇa Mahābhāṣya 2.2.6: आत संदहे ा ु पदेशा ा [...] (ibid., 411).

sacrament that must be performed for a Brahmin in his adolescence. Yājñavalkya states that

a Brahmin is born first from the mother, then for the second time through the investiture of

the sacred thread made of muñja grass.78 After this initiation a Brahmin is known as a dvija

or ‘twice born’. The registration of Brahmins in formal genealogies and the usage of these

records established new identities for Brahmins in Mithila. Through the pañjī records these

Brahmins were ‘reborn’ as Maithil Brahmins.

Yet, while the institutionalization of Brahmin identity in Mithila served to preserve the

order of the Brahmin community, it also placed the centralized control of pañjī and the

authority to approve marriages rested with genealogists and the king. As the pañjī con-

trolled ascriptive membership in the jāti, by extension the state had effectively taken over

the management of the Brahmin community. The pañjī prabandha represents a new aspect

of the relationship between the state, kinship, and caste. The systemization of genealogies

and the appointment of officials entrusted with maintenance of the genealogies bound caste

and kinship with political authority and state bureaucracy. The motivation of the king, as

the embodiment of the state, to maintain the order of castes by regulating marriage resulted

in establishing of a formal institution that collected, classified, and verified kinship data in

order to authorize marriages. Such a system not only expanded the function of the state, but

also expanded the importance of marriage in not only the social organization of Brahmins,

but also in maintaining the state. The next chapter extends the discussion presented here

and shows how the continuing and changing interface between pañjī prabandha and the

Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.39: मातयु द े जाय े ि तीयं मौि ब नात ्। ा ण ि यिवश

ादेत े ि जाः ृ ाः ॥ (Panśīkar,

Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 11).

state added new unexpected dimensions to brahminical genealogical record-keeping, social

structure, and community identity.

Father’s patriline Mother’s patriline

1 9

2 10

3 11

4 12

5 13

6 14

7 15

8 16

Father’s matriline Mother’s matriline

Figure 1.1: The sixteen ancestors enumerated in the uteṛha pañjī, consisting of the agnatic
lineage ( ) and the 15 non-agnatic lineages ( ). A potential bride and groom must not
be related through any of these 16 individuals. At the frontiers of the diagram are the 64
individual ancestors of ego (see section 1.3).

mūla 14° 10° 7° 5° mūla

Figure 1.2: Maithil Brahmin kinship categories. Solid lines indicate direct relationships;
dotted lines indicate indirect ancestry across the specified generations. Blue is the ag-
natic lineage; dark-gray and are cognatic sapiṇḍa-s; white is a non-agnatic lineage;
light-gray indicates ancestry beyond the mūla boundary. The markers 7° and 5° indicate
sapiṇḍa; 10° is sakulya; 14° is samānodaka; beyond that is samūla.

Chapter 2

The Making of a Maithil

In the previous chapter I explained how the pañjī prabandha established the genealogical

identities of Brahmins and defined the ascriptive boundaries of a community by requiring

marriages between brides and grooms who belonged to registered lineages. This system en-

sured that the Brahmins were in fact ‘Brahmins’ on account of their ancestries and that the

offspring of such marriages would be known as ‘Brahmins’. The discussion in the previ-

ous chapter focused upon the ‘egocentric’ aspects of pañjī prabandha, that is, the ideology

of brahminical identity based upon sapiṇḍa, or the relationship that arises on account of

shared bodily essence, and its role in establishing the basis of ascriptive membership in a

Brahmin community, or jāti. I now continue by describing in greater detail the ‘sociocen-

tric’ aspects of Brahmin identity in Mithila, namely the concept of mūla established by the

pañjī system. At the end of the previous chapter I explained that the mūla is the basis of

the endogamous and territorially bounded jāti or ‘caste’ community of ‘Maithila’ Brahmins

(hereafter, ‘Maithil’). The collection of registered mūla-s in the genealogical record intrin-

sically defined the conceptual and geographical parameters of an endogamous group and,

in turn, established a jāti of ‘Maithil’ Brahmins. In this chapter I explain the ideological and

social principles that territorially distinguish these Brahmins of Mithila from other Brahmin

communities. I demonstrate that the mūla established a lineage segment of the universal

brahminical gotra affiliation that is local to Mithila. However, it was local not to any broad

definition of ‘Mithila’, but specific to the territorial boundaries of the Karnata kingdom as

existed during the reign of king Harisimhadeva. The creation of the mūla indigenized the

Brahmins of the region bound them as a community to the kingdom. The implementation of

pañjī prabandha also established a chronological boundary to the definition of the Maithil

community. While the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa indicates that there was a sense that the Maithils

were a distinctive regional community in the 11th century, it was not until the implementa-

tion of pañjī prabandha in the 14th century that the Brahmins of the Karnata kingdom were

truly established as an endogamous, territorial jāti of ‘Maithil Brahmins’.

2.1 Crossing the Sadānīra

Māthava the Videgha had concealed Agni Vaiśvānara, the sacrificial fire, in his mouth.

His priest Gotama Rāhūgaṇa addressed him during a ritual, but Māthava would not answer

out of fear that Agni would fall from his mouth. Gotama carried on with the ritual and

once again invoked Agni with verses from the Veda, and again he addressed the king, “Oh

Videgha!”. But, Māthava still did not reply, fearing that Agni would fall out of his mouth.

Gotama continued the ritual and when he finally invoked the fire as the ‘one sprinkled

with butter’, Agni suddenly began to flare. Māthava was unable to hold back Agni as he

blazed. Agni leaped out of the king’s mouth and began to burn along the earth. In those

days, Māthava the Videgha lived on the banks of the river Sarasvatī. Agni began to burn

eastward along the ground. The king and his priest followed as Agni went across the earth,

burning over and drying up the rivers. But, Agni stopped when he reached the Sadānīra,

the river that flows from the Himālaya mountains to the north. He did not burn over this

river. When they reached the banks of the Sadānīra, Gotama turned to Māthava and asked

why he had not replied when being addressed during the sacrifice. Māthava said that he

did not want to respond because Agni was concealed in his mouth and he was afraid that if

he spoke Agni would escape. Gotama then asked Māthava, “How did all of this happen?”

The king replied, “when you invoked Agni with butter, he blazed forth and I could not hold

him back”. Seeing that the earth had been burned, Māthava then asked Agni, “Now where

am I to live?” Agni replied, “Your home shall now be to east of this river.” The Sadānīra

is cold even in summer and it rushes quickly down from the north. The land to the east of

the Sadānīra was very uncultivated, very marshy because it had not yet been tasted by Agni

Vaiśvānara. For this reason the Brahmins of earlier ages did not cross over it. But, after

it was tasted by Agni it became very cultivated and nowadays there are many Brahmins to

the east of the river. Even now, this river forms the boundary between the Kosalas and the

Videhas, these are the descendants of king Māthava.1

Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa–19: िवदेघो ह माथवोऽि ं वै ानरं मख ु े बभार । त गोतमो रा गण ऋिषः परोिहत ु आस त ै
ह ाम माणो न ित णोित न े ऽे ि व ानरो मख ु ाि ते ऽइित ॥१०॥ तमृि ियत ं ु द े । वीितहो ं ा कवे ुम सिमधीमिह ।
अ े बृह म रे िवदेघिे त ॥११॥ स न ितश ु ाव । उद े शच
ु य व श ु ा ाज ईरते । तव ोती यो िवदेघा३ इित ॥१२॥ स ह न ैव
ितश ु ाव । तं ा धृत वीमहऽइ वे ािभ ाहरदथा धृतकी ावेवाि व ानरो मख ु ा ाल । त शशाक धारियत ु सोऽ मख ु ाि दे े
स इमां पृिथव ापादः ॥१३॥ तिह िवदेघो माथव आस । सर ा स तत एव ा ह भीयायेमां पृिथव तं गोतम रा गणो िवदेघ
माथवाः प ा ह म ीयतःु । स इमाः सवा नदीरितददाह सदानीरे ु राि रेिन ावित ता हैव नाितददाह । ता ह तां पराु ा णा
न तर नितद धाि ना वै ानरेणिे त ॥१४॥ तत एतिह । ाचीनं बहवो ा णा ा े तरिमवास ािवतरिमवा िदतमि ना वै ानरेणिे त
॥१५॥ त हैतिह । े तरिमव ा णा उ िह नूनमेन ैरिस दं ािप जघ े न ैदाघे सिमवैव कोपयित ताव ीतानितद धा ि ना वै ानरेण

॥१६॥ स होवाच । िवदेघो माथवः ाहं भवानी त एव ते ाचीनं भवनिमित होवाच स ैषा ते िह कोसलिवदेहानां मयादा ते िह माथवाः ॥१७॥

अथ होवाच । गोतमो रा गणः कथं न नऽआम माणो न ु ऽे भू न े े मख
ौषीिरित स होवाचारि मे वै ानरो मख ु ाि ात ै त ा े न

The above narrative provides the traditional explanation for the first arrival of Brahmins

in the area of north Bihar. It has been interpreted as describing the spread of Vedic culture

from its cradle around the fabled river Sarasvatī in western India to the territories of the

east, which were long considered by Brahmins as being impure.2 The migration of Brah-

mins to the region beyond the Sadānīra, which was named ‘Videha’ after the king Māthava

Videgha, was quite literally a watershed moment in the spread of Vedic culture in India.3

The story of settlement occurs in the first book of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, a text com-

posed in the early first millenium êëí. By the end of the fourteenth and final book, which

is also known as the Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, the region is portrayed as the home of a

flourishing civilization. Within the mythic chronology of these texts, a city named Mithila

emerged as the capital of Videha and a righteous king named Janaka ruled the kingdom.4

The Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad relates that this Janaka once set out to perform a sacrifice.

Brahmins from the Kuru and Pañcāla regions to the west of Videha had flocked to Mithila

for the occasion. Janaka had decided to hold a contest during the occasion to know which of

these Brahmins was the most learned in the Vedas. To this Brahmin he would offer a thou-

ु ा द ाली ं नाशकं धारियत ु

ौषिमित ॥१८॥ त कथमभूिदित । य वै ं घृत वीमहऽइ िभ ाहष देव न घृतकी ावि ववै ानरो मख
ु ाि रपादीित ॥१९॥ (Upādhyāya, Śatapatha Brāhmaṇam, 71–72). I have adapted the translation of the
स मे मख
text made by Eggeling (The Satapatha-Brāhmana, 105–106).
For a discussion of the incorporation of Videha and other regions of eastern India into Vedic civilization
see Witzel, “Development of the Vedic Canon and its Schools.”
The name of the river Sadānīra means “abundant with water”. The significance of the name lies in the
hurdle of crossing such a river, as well as to the swampy land that it inundates as it courses through it. Weber
wrote, “Die Sadânîrâ steckt ihm ein Ziel, nicht durch ihre Grösse und die Schwierigkeit sie zu überschreiten
— sonst hätten es viel eher Yamunâ und Gangâ thun müssen — sondern durch die Unwirthbarkeit des jen-
seitigen Bodens, denn under dem srâvitaram v.15 „etwas sehr flüssig” ist wol der Charakter desselben als
angeschwemmtes Sumpfland bezeichnet” (Weber, “Zwei Sagen aus dem Çatapatha Brâhmana,” 178–179).
For a synopsis of the Janaka dynasties as represented in literary sources see Mishra, “Monarchical States
in Bihar up to 600,” 195–201 and Mishra, “Aryanization of Bihar: Northern and Southern”

sand cows to whose horns were each tied pieces of gold.5 While the assembly of Brahmins

anxiously waited for the debate to commence, a Brahmin named Yājñavalkya commanded

his disciple to carry off the cows that king Janaka had offered as the prize, thereby proving

his eminence.6 While the text suggests that Brahmins continued to arrive in Videha from

across India, it also emphasizes that Mithila had its own Brahmins, who are depicted as the

most learned. This Yājñavalkya is referred to as the “best of the Yogis seated in Mithila”,7

whom the great sages approached reverently to inquire about the dharma.8 His discourse

to them is recorded in the Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti, which is named after him. Modern scholars

have interpreted the passages from Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad and

Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti as attempts by Brahmin migrants to eastern India to validate Videha as a

legitimate center of Vedic orthodoxy.9 Whatever the motive, these early source provide im-

portant glimpses into the development of brahminical society in Mithila as portrayed within

the cultural worldview of Vedic literature, where Videha had emerged as a new destination

for Brahmins from all parts of ancient India who sought enlightenment, intellectual debate,

and patronage.

Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 3.1.1 (= Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa 14.6.1): जनको ह वैदहे ो ब दि णेन य ने ेजे त ह कु प ा-
लानां ा णा अिभसमेता बभूव ु ह जनक वैदहे िविज ासा बभूव कः ि देषां ा णानामनूचानतम इित गवां सह मव दोध दश दश
पदा एकै क ाः ोराब ा बभूवःु ॥१॥ (Vasu, Brihadaranyaka Upanisad, 240). Translation adapted from the same.
Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 3.1.2 (= Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa 14.6.2): ता ोवाच ा णा भगव ो यो वो ि ः स एता
गा उदजतािमित ते ह ा णा न दधृषरथ ु ह या व ः मेव चािरणमवु ाच ैताः सो ोदज साम वा ३ इित ता होदाचकार [...] ॥२॥ (ibid.,
241–242). Translation adapted from the same.
Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.2: िमिथला ः स योगी ः णं ा ा वी नु ीन ् । यि े े मृगः कृ
श ि माि बोधत ॥
(Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 2). Translation adapted from Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 5.
Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.1: योगी रं या व ं संप ू मनु योऽ वु न ।् वणा मेतराणां नो िू ह धमनशेषतः ॥ (Panśīkar, Yādnya-
valkyasmṛiti, 1).
For a discussion of this perspective see Black, The Character of the Self in Ancient India, Chapter 2.

Mithila, the name of the capital city of ancient Videha, was eventually applied to the

entire kingdom. As a designation for a broader territorial expanse, ‘Mithila’ is traditionally

described as the region bounded to the north by the Himalayas, to the south by the river

Ganges, to the west by the river Gandak (commonly associated with the Sadānīra),10 and

to the east by the river Koshi. This region corresponds roughly to the northern half of the

present-day Indian state of Bihar and the adjacent lands across the international border that

comprise the Janakpur and Narayani zones in Nepal. This primordial regional affiliation

with Videha, one of the sixteen mahā-jana-pada ‘great country’ of ancient India, continues

to be upheld today by the Maithil Brahmins. These Brahmins of Mithila are named ‘Maithil’

because of their affiliation with or residence within this territory.11 They are also known as

Tirhutiya Brahmins, or the inhabitants of Tirhut or Tirabhukti, names by which the region

was later known in the Gupta, Sultanate, Mughal, and British periods. Nearly two thou-

sand years after the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, new sources began suggesting that Mithila had

continued to grow in importance as a center of brahminical civilization. Moreover, these

texts provide evidence that the Brahmins of the region were recognized as constituting a

distinctive community. The formation of a regional brahminical community in Mithila is

portrayed in a text from the 12th century ëí associated with the history of the region between

the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, a land farther beyond the pale of Vedic orthodoxy

For a discussion on this issue see Pandey, The Historical Geography and Topography of Bihar, 55–57.
The term मैिथल maithila means “relating or belonging to Mithilā” (Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English
Dictionary, 834). It is a vr̥ddhi form of िमिथला mithilā.

than was Videha some two millenia earlier. The Sahyādri Khaṇḍa, which is traditionally

considered a part of the Skanda Purāṇa, opens with the following narration:12

ा णा दशधा ो ाः पंचगौडा ािवडाः । तेषां सवषां चो ाि ं कथय ु

सिव ्

ािवडा ैव त ैलं गाः कनाटा म देशगाः । गजरा ैव पंच ैते क े पंच ािवडाः ॥२॥
सार ताः का कु ा उ ला मैिथला ये । गौडा पंचधा च ैव दश िव ाः कीितताः ॥[३॥]

There are said to be ten kinds of Brahmins, five Gauḍas and five Drāviḍas. Please
describe to me the origin of all of them in detail.
The Drāviḍas (= Tamils), the Tailaṅgas, the Karnāṭas, the residents of the Madhyadeśa,
and the Gurjaras, these five are said to be the five Drāviḍas.
The Sārasvatas, the Kānyakubjas, the Utkalas, the Maithilas, and the Gauḍas, these
five [Gauḍas, together with the five Drāviḍas] are the ten [kinds of] Brahmins.13

In addition to literary sources, epigraphical records also indicate that Brahmins contin-

ued to settle in Mithila over the centuries. The Nandapur copper-plate from 488 ëí records

the gift of land, in the area that is in the present-day district of Monghyr in north Bihar, to

a Brahmin from Kolāñca.14 A group of priests migrated from the ‘Śākadvipa’ and settled

in north Bihar, bringing with them practices of sun worship.15 These priests were inte-

grated into the Brahmin varṇa and became known as Śākadvipīya or Maga Brahmins. As

specified in the copper-plate grants from the Pala era of the 11–13th centuries, Brahmins

from regions such as Kolāñca16 were invited by various kings to settle in Tirabhukti. On

the other hand, several Brahmins associated with Mithila are reported to have migrated

Gāyatoṇḍe, Sahyādrikhaṇḍa, 120.
Deshpande, “Pañca Gauḍa and Pañca Drāviḍa,” 34.
Majumdar, “Nandapur Copper-Plate of the Gupta Year 169,” 53.
Upadhyay, “The Magas of Ancient Bihar.”
Kolāñca is often associated with Kannauj in modern Uttar Pradesh, which is also the territory of the
Kanyakubja Brahmins. Monier-Williams interprets Kolāñca as a reference to the ancient Kalinga region, or
the Coromandel coast along the Bay of Bengal that stretches from Cuttack in Orissa to Madras in Tamil Nadu,
but also states that according to some “this place is in Hindustān, with Kanouj for its capital” (Sanskrit-English
Dictionary, 313). There is, however, no specific evidence that firmly establishes Kolāñca as Kannauj.

to other parts of India. The Sahyādri Khaṇḍa contains cryptic evidence of the migration

of Brahmins from Mithila to the area of modern Goa; it is cryptic because the text does

not refer to these Brahmins as ‘Maithils’, but as Brahmins from ‘Trihotra’, a term that is

suspiciously similar to other regional designations for north Bihar. In the midst of describ-

ing the ten Brahmin communities the narrative digresses in order to offer a perplexing and

slightly redundant secondary definition of the ‘Gauḍa’ division, which refers to the Tri-

hotrā, Agnivaiśya, Kānyakubja, Kanojaya, and Maitrāyāṇa as Brahmin sub-communities

to be found within this division.17 The story of the Trihotra Brahmins states that the epic

hero Paraśurāma brought ten sages to Gomāñcala (Goa) in western India from Trihotra.18

Moreover, the text explains that sixty-six families accompanied these ten Brahmins of dif-

ferent gotra-s from Trihotra.19 The association of these sixty-six families with Mithila is not

explicitly mentioned,20 but, Madhav Deshpande suggests that Trihotra refers to the Tirhut

region of Bihar.21 In addition to the supposed migration of Trihotra Brahmins, it is reported

that seventy-five Brahmin families migrated from Mithila westward to Mathura, Agra, and

Sahyādri Khaṇḍa: ि हो ा ाि वै य का कु ाः कनोजयाः । मै ायाणा पंच ैते पंचगौडाः कीितताः ॥ (Gāyatoṇḍe,
Sahyādri Khaṇḍa: परशरु ामेण ानीता मनु यो दश ॥ ि हो वािसन ैव पंचगौडा रा था । गोमांचले ािपता े पंच ो यां

कश ले ॥ (ibid.).
Sahyādri Khaṇḍa: दश गो करा िव ाि हो लवािसनः [...] ा णा दशगो ा कुलं ष ि कम (् ibid., 130). Deshpande
explains that the narrative implies that “the Gauḍa brahmins from Trihotra are the ideal brahmins” (“Pañca
Gauḍa and Pañca Drāviḍa,” 44).
The secondary classification of the Gauḍa division is interesting from a cultural perspective. The de-
scription of the food habits of the Trihotrā and the Kānyakubja specifies that the former are “fish eaters” and
the latter are “meat eaters”: ि हो ा का कु ा म भ ु ांसभज ं ु काः । (Gāyatoṇḍe, Sahyādrikhaṇḍa). Although it
may be implausible, the common stereotype in Bihar of Maithils being piscivores and the characterization of
Trihotras as matsya-bhuj might lend some support to the supposed connection between Trihotra and Tirhut.
Deshpande, “Pañca Gauḍa and Pañca Drāviḍa,” 42. Deshpande does not provide the etymology of Tri-
hotrā (ि हो ा), but it may be a distortion of ितर त tirahuta, which is itself a corruption of ितरभिु tirabhukti. If
this is correct, then Trihotrā may be synonymous with Tirhutā or Tirhutīya, which refers to a resident of the

other cities in the Braja region in the early 14th century and have resided there until the


The enumeration of the ‘Maithils’ as one of the five communities of the ‘Gauḍa’ divi-

sion suggests that at the time of the composition of the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa some Brahmins

perceived those members of the varṇa who resided in Mithila as being somehow distinct

in terms of character and culture from the neighboring Kanyakubja, Utkala, Gauda, and

Sarasvata communities of ‘northern’ India and farther removed culturally from the Dravida,

Tailanga, Karnata, Madhyadesa, and Gurjara of ‘southern’ India. However, the text does

not offer details regarding the geographical boundaries of these communities or the spe-

cific characteristics that distinguish any one of these Brahmin communities from the other


Who is a ‘Maithil’ Brahmin? When did a Brahmin of Mithila become known as a

‘Maithil’, and by what means? What defines a community of ‘Maithil Brahmins’? On the

basis of an territorial definition one might assume that the term ‘Maithil’ as found in the

Sahyādri Khaṇḍa would refer broadly to any Brahmin residing in that region across the

temporal spectrum, from the time of the crossing of the Sadānīra to the present. From this

perspective, the term could apply to mythological Brahmins such as those anonymous set-
Miśra, Brāhmaṇotpatti-darpaṇa, 128.
In fact, the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa passes over the origins of nearly all Brahmin communities in order to focus
upon specific groups. Indeed, the name of the text refers to the region between the Arabian Sea and the
Western Ghat mountains, and that the classification occurs in a section titled ‘Citpāvanabrāhmaṇotpattiḥ’
(‘Origins of the Chitpavan Brahmins’), clearly indicates that the intent of the text is to describe specific
Brahmin communities of Maharashtra and Goa, and to fold these Brahmin communities of western India into
the traditional Brahmin order; the sections that follow are titled ‘Kārāṣṭrabrāhmaṇotpattiḥ’ (‘Origins of the
Karhade Brahmins’) and the ‘Gomāñcalakṣetramāhātmya’ (‘Account of the Land of Goa’), which describes
the settling of Sarasvat Brahmins in Goa. For a discussion of the origins and interpretations of Sahyādri
Khaṇḍa and its socio-political implications for the Brahmins of Maharashtra, see Deshpande (“Pañca Gauḍa
and Pañca Drāviḍa”).

tlers referred to in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, as well as to personalities such as Yājñavalkya

and the other sages who presided at the court of king Janaka. It could also refer to the quasi-

mythical Trihotras and the historical Śākadvipīya and other Brahmins who migrated both

out of and into Mithila over the past two millenia. Yet, there is an old and conventional un-

derstanding in Bihar that although ‘Maithil’ is a territorial designation, it is not a label that

pertains to all Brahmins. A Brahmin might reside in Mithila or might trace his ancestry to

the region, but these factors do not necessarily make him a member of the Maithil Brahmin

community. If the identity of a ‘Maithil Brahmin’ is defined neither solely by territory or

even linguistic factors, then by what criteria is a Brahmin defined as being a ‘Maithil’?

2.2 Formation of a Territorial Community

After enumerating the ten communities of Brahmins, the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa explains the

divisions as follows:

ा णा दशधा च ैव ऋिषवंशो वाः ृ ाः । देश े देशिवधाचारा एवं िव रते मही ॥५॥

सवषां गाय ी वेदकममयो िविधः । ष मिविधय ु ा न त काया िवचारणा ॥६॥
भ ं ु ा भोजनीया सवदेशषे ु ा णाः । योिनसंबध
ं कृ ंच शाखासू सं या ॥७॥

It is taught that the ten types of Brahmins are descended from r̥ṣi lineages, but are
separated by country and by the customs of each country.
They all know the Gāyatrī chant, conduct Vedic rituals, and perform the six basic
duties;24 that should not be doubted.
But, the Brahmins of each country are known to have their own food habits, blood
relations, and branches of the Veda.

The six basic duties are specified in Manu Smr̥ti 1.88: अ ापनम यनं यजनं याजनं तथा । दानं ित हं च ैव ा -
णानामक यत ॥ ् (Jolly, Mânava Dharma-Śâstra, 10). “To Brâhmanas he assigned teaching and studying (the
Veda), sacrificing for their own benefit and for others, giving and accepting (of alms).” (Bühler, The Laws of
Manu, 24).

The narratives about the origins of the ten-fold classification and the rationale for the ge-

ographical segregation of Brahmins in the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa is unclear,25 but they reveal

two significant developments in the perception of Brahmin identity among members of the

varṇa. As described in the smr̥ti literature, Brahmins are traditionally recognized by various

hereditary attributes, such as their lineages (gotra and pravara) and their affiliations with

branches of the four Vedas and their schools (śākhā and caraṇa), and they are organized

by their occupational function (jāti). The Sahyādri Khaṇḍa suggests that at some point

after the smr̥ti period and before the composition of the text in question, some Brahmins

had already begun to perceive of themselves, whether as a taxonomic fiction or through

actual experience, as additionally belonging to culturally distinct communities located in

either the ‘northern’ or ‘southern’ half of India and to a particular region within these lon-

gitudinal divisions. Secondly, the passage reveals that while the basic duties of Brahmins

remained unchanged, further differences between them were perceived on account of the

localization of Vedic schools (sva-śākhā-sūtra),26 gastronomic preferences (bhojanīyāḥ),

and kinship customs (yoni-saṃbandha). Moreover, the implication that distinctions were

predicated upon yoni-saṃbandha suggests that the boundaries of these communities were

determined by marriage practices, which may be interpreted particularly as the rise of local

principles of endogamy and exogamy.27 The very existence of the ten-fold classification

See Deshpande for a discussion on the usage of the names ‘Gauḍa’ and ‘Drāviḍa’ for the geographical
divisions (“Pañca Gauḍa and Pañca Drāviḍa,” 29).
The development of śākhā-s and caraṇa-s is a trend from the Vedic period and pre-dates the Sahyādri
Khaṇḍa by more than a millenium. For further details see Witzel, “Development of the Vedic Canon and its
It is possible that the division into ‘north’ and ‘south’ was based upon the differences between the Indo-
Aryan and Dravidian kinship systems.

reveals an expansion of the preceived social attributes of ‘Brahminhood’. It is apparent that

by the 12th century the conceptual Brahmin varṇa had become empirically segmented into

discrete territorial jāti-s. A Brahmin had become known not only by his affiliation with an

ancestral lineage that stretched back to a Vedic r̥ṣi, but by the time of the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa,

he was known by his connection to a specific geographical community of Brahmins.

Yet, while the smr̥ti upholds varṇa endogamy as the normative practice and condones

various ranges of varṇa exogamy, it is absolutely silent upon the issue of the internal seg-

mentation of the Brahmin varṇa on the basis of geography and offers no rules regarding

the endogamy and exogamy of such segments. The absence of rules in the dharma texts

on such matters is likely owed to the fact that the conception of a territorial layout of the

Brahmin order emerged several centuries after these texts were compiled. Indeed, as the

Sahyādri Khaṇḍa states, communitarian endogamy was accepted as a matter of deśavid-

hācāra or ‘regional custom’. Although not described in the text, the customs restricting

marriage not only within the varṇa, but also within one’s own territorial jāti, and the rules

against marrying across jāti-s, appears to have attained the same force as statutes of the

smr̥ti. The Sahyādri Khaṇḍa does not mention the ‘Maithils’ beyond the initial enumer-

ation in the ten-fold classification and the implication that they possessed their own food

habits, localized branches of the Veda, and their own marriage customs, the text does not

reveal much else about them beyond their grouping in the ‘Gauḍa’ division. Despite the ab-

sence of information regarding the marriage customs of the ‘Maithils’ when the Sahyādri

Khaṇḍa was composed in the 11th century, by the 14th century it is clear that the customs

of yoni-saṃbandha in Mithila were defined by the pañjī prabandha.

The Sahyādri Khaṇḍa states that ‘the ten types of Brahmins are descended from r̥ṣi

lineages’, but now the descendants have become segregated culturally and geographically.

The ‘r̥ṣi lineages’ (r̥ṣi-vaṃśodbhavāḥ) may be interpreted as a reference to the gotra. The

gotra is the most ancient and traditional principle by which Brahmin society is organized,

followed by affiliation with schools of the Veda.28 Every Brahmin belongs to a gotra and in

this sense every Brahmin who belongs to the same gotra across all regional communities is

believed to share common descent. According to this principle, a Brahmin of the ‘Gauḍa’

division and a Brahmin of the ‘Drāviḍa’ division who both belong to the Vatsa gotra are

considered to be related. Such a relationship may have existed in the ancient past before

the migrations of these two families pulled them into different parts of India, but the actual

relationship between these two Brahmins in terms of kinship and ancestry is likely to be

fictive. As gotra exogamy is the fundamental rule for brahminical marriage, it is logical to

assume that a groom of the ‘Gauḍa’ division could marry a girl from the ‘Drāviḍa’ division

as long as they have different gotra-s. However, as the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa implies that the

ten regional communities are endogamous, it is reasonable to assume that it also implies

that the rule of gotra exogamy is limited to the regional community. There, however, is

Each śākhā or ‘branch’ of the one of the four Vedas — R̥gveda, Sāmaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda
— has its own customs that are codified in manuals for domestic practices (gr̥hyasūtra), for general codes
of conduct (dharmasūtra), and the performance of rituals (śrautasūtra). The groups practicing the customs
of a particular Vedic recension are known as a caraṇa, which may be interpreted as a “school” or “college”
of priests and scholars. The caraṇa has no significant bearing on modern Brahmin identity or kinship. For
additional details see Ghurye, Two Brahmanical Institutions.

no traditional means for determining such a limitation. The rules of territorial endogamy,

therefore, must also have been a matter of local custom.

The pañjī prabandha defined a new regional custom (deśavidhācāra) for the Brahmins

of Mithila. The basis for this local custom of endogamy was the mūla. The mūla is a named

maximal agnatic lineage that is founded upon an apical ancestor or viji purūṣa ‘primal in-

dividual’.29 The viji purūṣa is the earliest ancestor of a Maithil Brahmin known to have

resided in Mithila. He may be the ancestor of a single lineage or a group of patrilines. The

name of the mūla is derived, however, not from the name of the ancestor himself, but from

the name of the village in which he was known to reside. As this viji purūṣa was a Brah-

min he certainly belonged to a gotra. All Maithil Brahmins who trace their ancestry to this

viji purūṣa, therefore, belong to the same gotra. Accordingly, the mūla is subordinate to

the gotra. All of the mūla-s that belong to a single gotra are considered to be inter-related

and are by definition sagotra. The mūla, however, differs from the gotra in that the viji

purūṣa is an actual historical individual to whom a Brahmin can trace his ancestry, unlike

the eponymous r̥ṣi ancestor after which a gotra is named or the r̥ṣi-s whose names com-

prise the pravara. The number of mūla-s was fixed at some time after pañjī prabandha.

Maithil tradition relates that the number of recorded mūla-s was close to one thousand at

the time of registration, but several hundreds of these became defunct or extinct over the

past six centuries.30 While there have been no formal studies on the extinction of mūla-s,

some explanations may be offered based upon the conventions of pañjī prabandha. A mūla

Maithili िविज प ु ष “primal individual” < Sanskrit बीज bīja “seed” + प ु ष purūṣa “man”; refers to “the
progenitor of a tribe or family” (Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 732).
A comprehensive list of mūla-s is given in Jha, Genealogies and Genealogists of Mithila, Appendix II.

may have become defunct if the representatives of that lineage migrated elsewhere, as is the

case of the aforementioned seventy-five Maithil families that left for the Braja region in the

14th century. It is also believed that some mūla-s may have become defunct as a result of

excommunication resulting from the abandonment of the principles of pañjī prabandha by

families belonging to these lineages. A mūla may also have become extinct if the members

of the lineage passed away without producing male heirs. In any case, as of the 1980s there

are 180 active mūla-s, each of which belongs to one of twenty gotra-s that are prevalent

among the Maithils (see table 2.1).31

As the gotra is the basic principle of brahminical kinship and society, the pañjī records

classify all mūla-s in terms of their gotra affiliation in a section of the mūla pañjī known as

the gotra pañjī (see table 2.2). Shown below is an excerpt of the gotra pañjī that lists the

mūla-s of the Śāṇḍilya and Kāśyapa gotra-s:

अथ गो प ी िलखयते । अथ शाि ड ु
गो । िदघ ष सिरसब म आ पगलवाड़ ख डवला ग ोिल
यमगु ाम किरयन मोहिर स ु
ुआल मड़ार प डौिल यजआड़े ु
दिहभत ितलैइ महव िस आल िसंहा म
सोदरपरु कड़िरय अ ािर होईयार त ानपरु पिरसरा परस डा िवरनाम उ मपरु कोदिरय छितमन बरेबा

मछवाल ग ौर भटौरा बधौरा परा ु
ु कोईयार करिहवार ग ौआल घोिषयाम छतौनी िभगआल ननौती
तपनपरु । इित शाि ड गो ॥

[...] अथ का यप गो । दानशौ ताप ै िस ा य पािथवाः ओइिनसा सवतः े ा धम -

वितकाः ॥ ओइनी खौआल स राढी जगित दिरहरा मा डर बिलयास पचाउट कटाई सतलखा प डुआ

The discrepancy in the number of gotra-s specified in the secondary sources on pañjī prabandha is
an issue that needs further investigation. Rāmanātha Jhā states there are 18 (Maithila brāhmaṇoṃ ki pañjī
vyavasthā, 13), Baidyanath Saraswati writes there are 19 (“The Web of Maithil Clanship,” 31), and Jayānanda
Miśra (Pañjī byavasthāka udbhava evaṃ vikāsa, 31) concurs with Saraswati. Gaṇeśa Rāya, however, lists
20 gotra-s (Maithila brāhmaṇa evaṃ karṇa kāyasthaka pañjīkaraṇa, 52). The inconsistency is related to the
supposed extinction of the single mūla belonging to the Jātukarṇya gotra. Writing in the early 20th century,
Parameśvara Jhā suggests that there are only 16 extant gotra-s among the Maithils (Mithilā-tattva-vimarśa,


मािलछ मेर ी भ आल पकिलया बधवाल िपभूया मौरी भूतहरी छादन िवसफी थिरया दोि भरेहा कुस-ु

ाल नरवाल लगरदह । इित का यप गो ॥ [...]32

The gotra pañjī is written. Here begins the Śāṇḍilya gotra. Dirghoṣa, Sarisaba, Mahuā,
Pagulavāra, Khaṇḍavalā, Gaṅgoli, Yamugāma, Kariyana, Muhari, Sajhuāra, Maṛāṛhe,
Paṇḍauli, Yajuāṛe, Dahibhata, Tilaī, Mahava, Simbuāla, Siṃhāśrama, Sodarapura,
Kaṛariya, Anariye, Hoiyāra, Talahanapura, Parisara, Parasaṇḍā, Viranāme, Uttama-
pura, Kodariya, Chatimana, Barebā, Machavāla, Gaṅgaura, Bhaṭaura, Budhaura, Bra-
hmapurā, Koiyāra, Karahivāra, Gaṅgaula, Ghosiyama, Chataunī, Bhiguala, Nanautī,
Tapanapura. Thus, the Śāṇḍilya gotra.

[...] Here begins the Kāśyapa gotra. Known for their donations, valor, and glory,
the kings of the Oinī lineage are the foremost upholders of dharma. Oinī, Khauāla,
Saṅkarādhī, Jagati, Dariharā, Māṇḍara, Baliyāsa, Pacāuta, Kaṭāī, Satalakhā, Paṇḍuā,
Mālicha, Merandī, Bhaduāla, Sakala, Pakaliyā, Budhavāla, Pibhūyā, Maurī, Bhūtaharī,
Chādana, Visaphī, Thariyā, Dosti, Bharehā, Kusumbāla, Naravāla, Laguradaha. Thus,
the Kāśyapa gotra.

The mūla contains several minimal lineage segments. A sub-lineage of the mūla is

known as a grāma or “village”. The grāma segments of a mūla are recorded in a section

of the mūla pañjī known as the patra pañjī. Below is an excerpt of the patra pañjī of the

Khauāla mūla that belongs to the Kāśyapa gotra:

अथ खौआल ामः । ीकराप ु

महनौरा । रितकर सधाकराप म आ । च कराप म आ। -
िचकराप म आ मिह परु । ि ितकराप मिह परु िदवाकराप कोरोिल । हिरकराप म आ।
आदावन परसौनी । बाछे दोढ़े स ित रो आ । वेणी स ित रो आ । उँमापित स ित नाहस । िव -
नाथाप अिहल । बिु नाथ िचनाथाप ु
खिड़क । रघनाथपा ारम । िव ु स ित ारम । नोन े
जग ाथाप ु
बसवन । राम मरु ारी शक
ु स ित प डौली । बाटु स ित ु
परु ितरहर मौडु । साधक-
राप दिडमा । हरान स ित अिहयािर । भवािद ाप ु ल । पाँख ू बेहट । भवे स ित
नाहस देशआ
धमकराप ु ल । डा स ित दिडमा । दामोदराप
देशआ तरहट परु । राजनाप ु
यजआल ।
ि ितकराप पराडीह पतौन खौआल िदवाकराप घघु आ
ु । भवािद ाप ककरौड़ ख रैढा समेत ।

ब ै नाथ जाकरक रघनाथ कामदेव मौनी परसौनी । गोपलाप कृ प कुमिर खेलइै । शिशधराप-
नरिसंहाप बोड़वड़ी कोकडीह छतौिनय । दामोदराप कोकडीह । नयािद ाप बेजौली । ािर
स ित जयािद ाप मरु ाजपरु परु । जीवे राप िदग ु । भवे स ित िभ ी सत ैढ़ बेहट । बे
स ित ु स ित बेहटा । िदवाकराप
परु । हे स ित सत ैढ़ रिवकर स ित त वै । साद मधकर

Mūla Pañjī written by Pañjīkara Paṇḍita Modanānda Jhā, fol. 14.

ु । ग े राप
िपथनपरा कुरमा लोहपरु । ल ोधर स ित कुरमा । नाई स ित िपथ रु ा । राजपि डत
सह कुरमा । रामकर स ित िभ ी ख रैठा गनाम । आङिन स ित सौराठ । मित गहाई के उँ स ित
िस ारवाड़ । एते खौआल ामः ॥33

Here begin the Khauāla grāma-s: The descendants of Śrīkara at Manaurā. Those of
Ratikara and Sudhākara at Mahuā. Those of Candrakara at Mahuā. Rucikara’s descen-
dants at Mahuā and Mahindrapura. Those of Sthitikara at Mahindrapura and those of
Divākara at Koroli. Those of Harikara at Mahuā. Ādāvana at Parasaunī. The de-
scendants of Bāche and Doṛhe at Rohuā. Those of Veṇī at Rohuā. Those of Umā-
pati at Nāhasa. Those of Viśvanātha at Ahila. Those of Buddhinātha and Rucinātha
at Khaṛika. Raghunātha at Dvārama. Those of Viṣṇu at Dvārama. Those of None
and Jagannātha at Busavāna. Those of Rāma Murarī and Śuka at Paṇḍaulī. Bāṭu at
Brahmapura, Tirahara, and Mauḍu. Sādhukara at Daḍimā. Harānanda at Ahiyāri.
Bhavāditya at Nāhasa and Deśuāla. Pāṅkhū at Behaṭa. Bhāve’s son Dharmakara
at Deśuāla. Ḍālu at Daḍimā. Dāmodara at Tarahaṭa and Brahmapura. Rājana at
Yajuāla. Pritikara at Parāḍīha and Patuana-Khauāla; those of Divākara at Ghughuā.
Those of Bhāvāditya settled at Kakarauṛa and Khaṅgaraiḍhā. Baidyanātha, Prajākara,
Raghunātha, Kāmadeva at Maunī and Parasaunī. Those of Gopāla at Kumari and those
of Kr̥ṣṇa at Khelaī. Śaśidhara’s son Narasiṃha’s descendants at Boṛavaṛī, Kokaḍīha,
and Chataunī. Dāmodara at Kokaḍīha. Nayāditya at Bejaulī. Dvāri’s son Jayāditya’s
descendants at Murājapura and Brahmapura. Jīveśvara at Digundha. Those of Bhāve
at Bhiṭṭhī, Sataiṛha, and Behaṭa. Dūbe at Brahmapura. Helu at Sataiṛha and those of
Ravikara at the same place. Those of Prasāda and Madhukara at Behaṭa. Divākara at
Pithanapura. Gaṅgeśvara at Kuramā and Lohapura. The rāja paṇḍita Saha at Kuramā.
Rāmakar at Bhiṭṭhī, Khaṅgaraiḍhā, and Ganāma. Āṅani at Saurāṭha. Those of Mati,
Gahāī, and Keuḍū at Siṃhāravāṛa. Here end the Khauāla grāma-s.34

The patra pañjī shows that the Khauāla mūla was segmented into 59 descendants who left

the ancestral village and established residences in 43 different villages throughout Mithila.

The patra records show similar segmentations for each mūla. Below is the patra pañjī for

the Khaṇḍavalā mūla of the Śāṇḍilya gotra:

अथ ख डवला ाम । ठ ु र हराई स ित भखराई । सोमे राप ु

बसवन कछवा समेत । ठ ु र अन
हिर लखनौर । भोिग राप गोपाल स ित बथयी हरड़ी । गदाधराप पौराम । र ाकराप हलधर

Mūla Pañjī written by Pañjīkara Paṇḍita Modanānda Jhā, fol. 14.
The patra pañjī refers to a person’s descendants either by adding the suffix -apatya ‘children’ or ‘son’
to his name or by the term santati ‘lineage’, eg. śrikarāpatya “Śrīkara’s sons” or umāpati santati “lineage
of Umāpati”. For sake of brevity I have translated these terms in some cases as “those of”, which implies
descent through a possessive context.

तेतिरया हरडी ख डवला । ठ ु र बे स ित भौर । लाखूमिहपित बेहट यमगु ाम । योिग राप सोदपरु
सरपरब क हिन वासी डीह ख डवला । शभु द ाप ु सोनकहमेिर
ु ल । झाझ ू स ित रैयाम गरदी
। वा ु वाग ु िह ौिर । गोपलाप ु
गढ़ । देव े स ित चनआरी । प धराप तेतिरया । िदनकराप
पौराम बथिय िबहारी उमथ गोराढ़ी । साध ु स ित बथयी । ल ीपित स ित खरशा । गणे रपा

गलदी । ह े राप बेलारी । िजवे राप अलय। सोमक थ सरपरब । रिव स ित गौर परु ।
ु ल । प ी राप
जयकर स ित सजनी । भासे डीह । देव े राप े देशआ यमगु ाम । िगरी राप
ु ल । िव े राप
देशआ वैकु ठपरु । िशितक ठ स ित ख ु ी । र े राप ु
गलदी । एते ख डवला
ामः ॥35
Here begin the Khaṇḍavalā grāma-s. The lineage of Ṭhakkura Harāī at Bhakharāī.
The descendants of Someśvara at Busavana and Kachavā. Ṭhakkura Ananta Hari at
Lakhanaura. The lineage of Gopala son of Bhogiśvara at Bathayi and Haraḍi. Gadad-
hara at Paurama. Haladhara son of Ratnakara at Tetariya and Harari. That of Ṭhakkura
Dube at Bhaura. The lineage of Lakhu Mahipati at Behaṭa and Yamugama. That of
Yogiśvara at Sodarpura, Saraparaba, Karuhani, and Ḍiha Khaṇḍavalā. Śubhadatta at
Deśuāla. The lineage of Jhajhu at Raiyama, Guradi, and Sonakahameri. The lineage
of Vastu, Vagu, and Hiru at Dyauri. That of Gopala at Gaṛha. The lineage of Deve at
Canuāri. That of Gaṇeśvara at Guladī. That of Halleśvara at Belari. That of Jiveśvara
at Alaya. Somakaṇṭha at Saraparaba. The lineage of Ravi at Gaura Brahmapura. That
of Jayakara at Sajani. Bhase at Ḍiha. That of Deveśvara at Deśuāla. That of Pakṣiśvara
at Yamugama. That of Giriśvara at Deśuāla. That of Vindeśvara at Vaikuṇṭhapura and
Śitikaṇṭha at Khuṭṭī. That of Ratneśvara at Guladī. Here end the Khaṇḍavalā grāma-s.

The Khaṇḍavalā mūla has 36 branches. The patra for the Khauāla and Khaṇḍavalā mūla-s

show that in some cases a single village was settled by several kinsmen, while in other cases,

the descendants of a Brahmin moved to entirely new villages. The founder of a grāma is

known as a grāmopārjaka or ‘village founder’. The settling of an individual at a new village

is considered a segmentation of the patriline. This sub-lineage is known as a śākhā ‘branch’

and the individual responsible for the branch is known as the ādi purūṣa of the sub-lineage,

or the earliest known ancestor to have migrated from the ancestral village and settled in a

new village. As expected, all śākhā-s of the mūla have the same gotra as the viji purūṣa.

For example, the patra pañjī shows that Śrīkara left Khauāla and settled at Manaurā and
Mūla Pañjī written by Pañjīkara Paṇḍita Modanānda Jhā, fol. 12.

a new sub-lineage began with him. Therefore, Śrīkara is considered the grāmopārjaka of

the Khauāla branch at Manaurā and the ādi purūṣa of the sub-lineage that descends from

him. All named segments of the mūla are specified using a compound consisting of the

title of the mūla and the subsidiary grāma. For instance, Śrīkara’s descendants are known

by the designation Khauāṛe-Manaurā.36 Similarly, the descendants of both Ratikara and

Sudhākara are known by the designation Khauāṛe-Mahuā. This organizational structure is

known as the mūla-grāma system. Although segmentation of the mūla continued to occur

after the mūla-grāma system was established, the formation of additional branches was no

longer recorded. Just as the number of mūla-s is fixed, so also are the grāma designations.

The mūla-grāma system is the primary basis for territorial and social organization among

the Maithil Brahmins.

2.3 Ideology of the Territorial Lineage

Unlike the legend of Harinātha Upādhyāya, which explains the origins the genealogical

records, there is no traditional legend about the origins of the mūla. Despite the fact that

the mūla is the principle upon which pañjī prabandha and the Maithil Brahmin community

is organized, there is no documentation about its origins or the ideology of the concept.

In fact, the pañjī records themselves do not offer any concrete details about the origins of

the apical ancestors or the territorial boundaries that demarcated the villages upon which

the mūla-s are based. The mūla is viewed primordially by the Maithil Brahmins and the

In the mūla-grāma designation, the former is either grammatically declined in the locative case (-e) or
with the locative suffix -vāla. In both cases, according to the rules of Maithil phonology, la is metathesized
into the retroflex flap ṛa on account of its intervocalic position, eg. Khauāla + e → Khauāṛe.

internal explanation is that it represents the ancestral home of a family. There is no notion

of an origin outside of Mithila. To date, there are no available epigraphical or other records

outside of the pañjī genealogies that link a viji purūṣa to the mūla village. However, there

is some disagreement among modern Maithil scholars as to whether the mūla existed before

pañjī prabandha or if it is was created during the development of the genealogies.37 While

the pañjī records do not offer clarification, it is possible to consider both sides of the issue.

Following the evidence suggested by Kumārila Bhaṭṭa, as discussed in the previous chap-

ter, it is quite likely that some conscientious families maintained careful records of their

ancestries and were able to identify the earliest known ancestor who resided in Mithila.

On the other hand, it is also quite possible that in the course of tabulating the ancestries of

various families the pañjīkara-s were able to trace the inter-relationships between various

families and lineages that were inter-related back to common progenitors at various gen-

erations. These in turn could have been traced farther back to earlier ancestors, until they

arrived at a sole individual that was the originator of the various lineages and the earliest

known ancestor to have resided at a particular place in Mithila. A third possibility, which

seems to be the most plausible is that the establishing of each mūla involved a combination

of pre-existing information on lineages and ancestral details gathered during the census op-

erations. Despite the absence of historical records and secondary literature on the mūla, it

is possible to develop an understanding of its origins based upon an interpretation of the

scope and purpose of the pañjī genealogies. In fact, given the centrality of mūla to the so-

Saraswati, “Institution of Pañjī,” 266.

cial organization of the Maithil Brahmins, it is prudent for the present discussion to at least

attempt to provide some insight into the origins of this lineage construct.

I propose that the mūla represents an effort to establish the basis for new genealogical

histories of Brahmins who were registered during the pañjī prabandha. The creation of a

mūla entailed two processes. The first was the indigenization of the viji purūṣa through the

severence of any external kin, community, or geographical affiliation that the apical ances-

tor may have had and reassigning him as the ‘seed man’ of a new lineage. This ancestor

may have originated outside of Mithila. He may have left his own ancestral home and mi-

grated as early as the Gupta period or as late as the Karnata era in order to serve in the court

of a king in north Bihar. He may have left behind his parents, as well as agnatic relatives

consisting of grandfathers, uncles, and brothers with whom he shared personal ties, and per-

haps affinal relations as well. What is certain is that among all the relatives in his agnatic

lineage, this Brahmin was the earliest known member of that lineage to settle in Mithila and

to reside and raise his family there. As might be expected for an apical ancestor, the pañjī

records do not provide any details about his ancestry. However, a close examination of the

genealogies of some mūla-s provides a means for piecing together some details about some

of these apical ancestors. The excerpt of the pañjī of the Khauāla mūla given in Chapter

1 provides some details regarding the viji purūṣa of the lineage. As shown in the excerpt,

the fathers-in-law of the viji purūṣa Prajāpati and his sons Vācaśpati and Umāpati are not

recorded. It is at the third generation, with Vācaśpati’s son Gaṇapati that the pañjī makes

the first reference to the father-in-law of someone from Khauāla. Although not initially

self-evident, the recording of fathers-in-law is an important hint at the territorial origins of

the founder of the Khauāla lineage and his sons and their affines. The mūla pañjī does not

reveal any information about Prajāpati’s father-in-law. Perhaps the descendants of Prajā-

pati who participated in the pañjī prabandha did not have information about the wife of

their apical ancestor. On the other hand, it is quite possible that Prajāpati’s father-in-law

was from outside of Mithila. If Prajāpati was born outside of Mithila, then it is quite possi-

ble that he had married a woman from his own ancestral locality, and emigrated to Mithila

afterwards. It could also be the case that his sons Vācaśpati and Umāpati were born outside

of Mithila. Their fathers-in-law are also unmentioned, so it is possible that their wives’

families were also from a different territory, possibly from the ancestal home of their fa-

ther. They may have been married before arriving in Mithila or they may have settled there

and then sought marriages with women from their own community. It is also possible that

the descendants of Prajāpati at the time of pañjī prabandha knew the details of their apical

ancestor’s own ancestry, but the genealogists excluded that information from the records

because they were not resident in Mithila. As far as the pañjī records are concerned, the

ancestry of Prajāpati and the potential of his external origins are of little concern. The very

idea of pañjī prabandha required that Prajāpati’s ancestry be forgotten. The establishment

of a viji purūṣa meant that this individual was to be the anchor of the mūla that was to be

founded upon him. What is of concern is his existence after his migration and settlement

in Mithila. Prajāpati is the founder of the Khauāla mūla and as such the history of the

Maithil Brahmins of the Khauāla lineage begins with him and the place in Mithila where

he resided. What is important is that at the time of pañjī prabandha there was at least one

Brahmin included in the census that traced either traced is ancestral home to Khauāla or to


Following the above, Prajāpati’s last known residence in Mithila was in the village

of Khauāla. For this reason he was established as the viji purūṣa of the Khauāla mūla.

Although he is considered the apical ancestor of all descendants of the Khauāla mūla, the

pañjī registered the lineages descending from him under the designation of his residence.

Why were the Maithil patrilines named for locations instead of individuals? The process of

indigenizing Brahmins involved linking individuals to locales within the Karnata kingdom.

This was done by naming the mūla lineages after names of villages instead of the names of

ancestors. The potential external origins of the viji purūṣa suggests why the implementers

of the pañjī prabandha chose to name lineages after the village and not by the name of the

viji purūṣa. As the system was formalized under the auspices of the government of king

Harisimhadeva, it is likely that the king and his ministers had an interest in the Brahmins

who resided within the boundaries of their kingdom. A Brahmin who lived in Mithila may

certainly have come from a different region, but he was resident in Mithila. By linking the

lineage of a Brahmin to the land, the pañjī prabandha emphasized the territoriality of the

lineages within Mithila and severed the ancestors of the viji purūṣa from his descendants.

Through the invention of the mūla, the pañjī prabandha produced a segment of the

universal gotra designation that was specific to Mithila. The ancestors of the viji purūṣa

may have migrated to Mithila at some distant past or at the time of pañjī prabandha, but with

the formalization of the mūla, the outside linkage was terminated and the earliest known

ancestor to have lived in Mithila was taken as the start of a new lineage local to the territory.

The Khauāla mūla belongs to the Kāśyapa gotra. Just as all members of the Khauāla mūla

are Kāśyapa on account of Prajāpati, so also is Prajāpati a Kāśyapa on account of his father

and his father’s agnatic ancestors. Under the rules specified in Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti, a groom

of the Khauāla mūla could technically marry a girl from any gotra, provided she was an

asapiṇḍa. But, the pañjī prabandha restricted the outer limit of eligible gotra-s to those

possessed by the viji purūṣa-s recorded in the pañjī. The mūla represents the localization of

lineages descended from the universal gotra patrilines that are anchored within the territory

of Mithila by historical individuals who claimed descent from the ancient, eponymous r̥ṣi-s

who are the ancestors of all Brahmins.

The establishing of the viji purūṣa as the founder of a territorial lineage local to Mithila

has significant implications for the identity of Brahmins. Although the majority of the apical

ancestors were not alive at the time of pañjī prabandha, there might have been some cases

where Brahmins who had arrived in Mithila shortly before registration were included in

the genealogies. Consider a hypothetical case in which a Kanyakubja Brahmin migrates to

Mithila three generations before pañjī prabandha. His descendants are born in north Bihar.

His grandson is registered during the census, at which point he becomes the viji purūṣa

of the lineage and the village where he last resided in Mithila is established as the mūla.

It is likely that this great-grandson has relatives living in the ancestral home of his great-

grandfather, but from the perspective of the pañjī records, these pre-existing relationships

are severed. The great-grandson and his descendants would be recognized as a Maithil

Brahmin, by the Maithil community, but his agnatic relatives would remain Kanyakubja

Brahmins. Such reassignments of identity complicate the clean division of Brahmins as

portrayed in the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa.

2.4 Lineage and Land

The codification of the mūla during pañjī prabandha has an importance beyond the an-

choring of a Brahmin to the territory of Mithila. By connection a Brahmin to a particular

village, the mūla establishes two other links between lineage and land that operate within

the domain of the relationship between the king and Brahmin. The question may arise:

what may be the king’s interest in establishing an endogamous community of Brahmins

whose lineages are anchored to the territory encompassed by his kingdom? The connection

between Brahmin lineages and the king is specified in the Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti, which says

that a king “should appoint ministers, who are intelligent, hereditary servants, steady and

pure” and “he should administer the kingdom in consultation with them”.38 The Manu Sm-

r̥ti is more descriptive in its specifications. It states that the king should “appoint seven or

eight ministers whose ancestors have been royal servants, who are versed in the sciences,

heroes skilled in the use of weapons, and descended from noble families”.39 Manu states

that the relationship between king and his Brahmin ministers is crucial to the proper func-

Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.312: स मि णः कुव त ा ा ौलाि रा च ु ीन ् । त ैः साध िच ये ा ं िव णे ाथ ततः यम ् ॥
(Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 97). Translation adapted from Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 396.
Manu Smr̥ti 7.54: मौला ा िवदः शूरां ल ान क ् ु लो वान ।् सिचवान स् चा ौ वा कुव त परीि तान ॥ ् (Jolly, Mânava
Dharma-Śâstra, 131). The translation of this verse and those that appear below have been adapted from
Bühler, The Laws of Manu, 224–225.

tioning of the kingdom. He cautions that “even an undertaking that is in itself easy may be

difficult to accomplish by a single person, so it is harder for a king to govern a kingdom if

he has no assistants”.40 For this reason, Manu advises that the king should confer with his

ministers on a daily basis upon peace and war, revenue, protection of the kingdom, and all

other pertinent matters.41 The king should seek the opinion of each minister individually

and jointly in council.42 But, in the end the “king should deliberate upon the most important

affairs of policy with the most distinguished and learned Brahmin among the ministers.”43

Moreover, the king should always entrust all matters to that Brahmin.44 The smr̥ti-s make

it clear that the king should rule over the kingdom with the close involvement of a group of

ministers. These ministers should be selected from Brahmin families of high rank who have

experience in governance. In addition to these ministers, Manu states that the king should

appoint a purohita, or a personal priest, and other officiating priests in order to perform the

necessary domestic rites.45 In describing these Brahmin families, Manu uses the adjectives

maula and kulodbhava. Derived from mūla, the term maula means “handed down from an-

tiquity”, but also has the specific definition of an individual “holding office from previous

generations” and a “hereditary minister”.46 Similarly, kulodbhava carries the connotation

of a person who is “sprung from a good family”.47 The recommendation for hereditary ap-

Manu Smr̥ti 7.55: अिप य क ु रं कम तद क े ेन रम ।् िवशेषतोऽसहायेन िकं त ु रा ं महोदयम ॥ ् (Jolly, Mânava Dharma-
Śâstra, 131).
Manu Smr̥ti 7.56: त ैः साध िच येि ं सामा ं संिधिव हम ।् ानं समदु यं गिु ं ल शमनािन च ॥ (ibid.).
42 ् ्
Manu Smr̥ti 7.57: तेषां ं मिभ ायमपल पृथक पृथक । सम ानां च कायष ु िवद ाि तमा नः ॥ (ibid., 132).

Manu Smr̥ti 7.58: सवषां त ु िविश ने ा णेन िवपि ता । म ये रमं म ं राजा षा ु यसंयतु म ॥ ् (ibid.).
Manu Smr̥ti 7.59: िन ं ति न स ् मा ः सवकायािण िनःि पेत ।् तेन साध िविनि ततः कम समारभेत ॥ ् (ibid.).
45 ु ु ु ु ु
Manu Smr̥ti 7.78: परोिहतं च कव त वृणयादेव च ऋि जः । तेऽ गृ ािण कमािण कयवतािनकािन च ॥ (ibid., 134).
Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 837.
Ibid., 295.

pointments of ministers requires that royal Kshatriya families establish relationships of trust

and cooperation with ‘good’ Brahmin families that are sufficiently stable in order to span

generations of dynastic succession. The creation of such hereditary, stable relationships

further requires that royal dynasties provide Brahmins with enough incentive to reside in a

particular locality over long periods of time.

According to the smr̥ti-s, kings provided such incentives to Brahmins through reciprocal

exchange. The Brahmin legitimized a king through the performance of rituals and the king

provided the Brahmin with the material goods necessary for maintaining a life devoted to

the pursuit of the six duties. The greatest gift was that of immovable wealth. Yājñavalkya

states that a king should “make a gift of land” and “produce a document in order to inform

good kings, who are yet to come” of that gift.48 The importance of this gift of land is

suggested by the specific details given by Yājñavalkya regarding the content and substance

of the grant: “the king should make a record on a piece of cloth or a copper plate that

bears his seal and an inscription containing his name and that of his ancestors”,49 then he

should “describe the land and its boundaries” and “sign the grant with his signature and

the regnal year”.50 On the one hand the king acquired intangible spiritual and social merit

through such donations of wealth to Brahmins. Manu states that “a king shall perform

Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.318: द ा भूिमं िनब ं वा कृ ा ले ं त ु कारयेत ।् आगािमभ नृपितपिर ानाय पािथवः ॥ (Panśīkar,
Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 97). Translation adapted from Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 400.
Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.319: पटे वा ता प े वा म ु ोपिरिचि तम ।् अिभले ा नो वं याना ानं च महीपितः ॥ (Panśīkar,
Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 100). Translation adapted from Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 401.
Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.320: ित हपरीमाणं दान दे ोपवणनम ्। ह कालसंप ं शासनं कारयेि रम ्॥ (Panśīkar, Yā-
dnyavalkyasmṛiti, 97). Translation adapted from Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 401.

sacrifices and in order to acquire merit, he shall give away wealth to Brahmins”.51 For it is

believed “that which is given to Brahmins is an imperishable treasure for kings”,52 because

it cannot be stolen or lost and for that reason an “imperishable store must be deposited

by kings with Brahmins”.53 The reason is that gifts made to a learned Brahmin earns a

“hundred-thousand fold reward”, while gifts made to a Brahmin who knows the Vedas and

all the other teachings yield rewards “without end”.54 While such donations secured the

material conditions of the Brahmin so that he could focus on his required duties, the king

also acquired tangible benefit from such donations. The granting of immovable property,

or land, by a king would enable Brahmins to settle and to establish local lineages from

which a king could appoint ministers to serve the kingdom. By providing his genealogy,

the king ensures that the provenance of the grant is known not only to future kings, but to

the descendants of the Brahmin himself.

There are some records from north Bihar that contain evident of grants of lands made to

Brahmins by various kings from the 11–13th centuries ëí. The extant records are copper-

plate grants. The first plate dates to 1020 ëí. It was issued by a king named Saurāditya

who belonged to the Malayaketu dynasty, which is believed to have ruled in the far north-

west of Tirabhukti, bordering on the Gorakhpur region of the modern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The donee is a Brahmin of the Sāvarṇa gotra named Bhaṭṭa Yaśāditya, son of Vāṭṭho and

51 ्
Manu Smr̥ti 7.79: यजेत राजा तिु भिविवध ैरा दि ण ैः । धमाथ च ैव िव े ो द ा ोगान धनािन च॥ (Jolly, Mânava Dharma-
Śâstra, 134). The translation of this verse and those that appear below have been adapted from Bühler, The
Laws of Manu, 228–231.
Manu Smr̥ti 7.82cd: नृपाणाम यो षे िनिध ा ोऽिभधीयते ॥ (Jolly, Mânava Dharma-Śâstra, 134).
Manu Smr̥ti 7.83: न तं ने ा न चािम ा हरि न च न यित । त ा ा ा िनधात ो ा णे यो िनिधः ॥ (ibid.).
54 ु
Manu Smr̥ti 7.85cd: सह गणमाचाय अन ं वेदपारगे ॥ (ibid.).

grandson of Aḍavi; he is from Usīya-grāma and his family is from Chela.55 The king

Saurāditya granted land to this Brahmin at Vanapalli-grāma, located in the Vyalisi-viṣaya

within the Daradgaṇḍakī-maṇḍala of Tirabhukti, which is situated somewhere along the

Gandak river.56 The second plate dates to the reign of the Pala king Vigrahapala III in the

11th century ëí.57 The donee is a Brahmin of the Śāṇḍilya gotra belonging to the Chāndoga

śākhā of the Sāmaveda. This Brahmin was named Ghāṇṭūkaśarman and he was the son of

Tuṅga, and the grandson of Yogasvāmi.58 He is described as a student of a teacher named

Narasiṃha and he was a scholar of mīmāṃsa, vyākaraṇa (grammar), and tarka (logic). He

lived at Iṭṭāhāka and his family was originally from Kolāñca. He was granted land in the

village of Vasukavartta in the Hodreya-viṣaya of Tirabhukti.59 A century later, the afore-

mentioned Panichobh copper-plate of Samgramagupta was produced in order to make a

grant of land to a Brahmin of the Śāṇḍilya gotra, who was a follower of the Yajurveda.

The donee was from Kolāñca and his name was Śrīkumārasvami, son of Śrīkr̥ṣṇāditya, and

grandson of Śrīrāma.60 The frequency of land grants to Brahmins during this era may be

inferred by another record bearing Saurāditya’s name. This grant, containing the date cor-

Lines 23–24: [...] Chchhela-vinirggata-Usiya-gramiya-Savarnna-sagotraya Bharggava-Chyavana-
Apnavana-Aurvva-Yamadagni ete panchapravaraya Bhatta-sri-Yasaditya Bhatta-Vattho-sutaya Bhatta-
Adavi-naptre [...] (Sircar, “Copper-Plate Grants from Bihar,” ‘Grant of Vikrama 1077’, 135).
Lines 16–17: [...] Daradgandaki-mandale Vyalisi-vishay-antashpati-Vanapalligrame [...] (ibid., ‘Grant
of Vikrama 1077’, 134).
Found at Bangaon in Bhagalpur District, Bihar.
Line: 36–39: “[...] Sandilya-sagotraya | Sandily-Asita-Devala-pravaraya | Narasimha-sabrahmacharine
| Chhandoga-sakh-adhyayine | mimamsa-vyakarana-tarkka-vidya-vide | Kolancha-vinirggataya | Ittahaka-
vastavyava | Yogasvami-pauttraya | Tungaputtraya | sri-Ghantukasarmmane | [...]” (Sircar, “Bangaon Plate,”
Line: 25: “Tirabhuktau Hodreya-vaishyika-Vasukavarttat |” (ibid.).
Panchobh copper-plate, lines 11–12: “[...] साि ड ािसत दैव वराय कोला ियिविन गत भ ीरामपौ ाय भ
ु िव षे । आय ु बटुकभ ीकुमार ािमशमणे [...]” (Choudhary, “Panichobh Copperplate of Sam-
ीकृ ािद प ु ाय यजवद
gramagupta,” 115).

responding to April 2, 1026 ëí, is important because it appears to be a template. In his

analysis of the plate D. C. Sircar writes that “the most important feature of the record un-

der study is the absence of the donee’s name”. The end of the grant contains a line that

reads “This grant is merely an illustration”, suggesting that it was “kept in the record office

of the king as a sample draft for being consulted by the scribes to prepare similar other

documents.”61 Despite the epigraphical evidence that shows these Brahmins being settled

in north Bihar, these villages do not correlate with names of mūla-s recorded in the pañjī


In her study of Brahmin migration in north India, Swati Datta writes that one of the

chief causes of migration among Brahmins was political instability in home regions and the

desire for security and stability, and improved livelihood.62 Although Datta does not specif-

ically cite any cases from north Bihar, she explains that the weakening of the Pala empire

of Bengal after the death of Devapala in 850 ëí and the subsequent attempts by various

groups to lay claim to Pala territory created a hostile environment in eastern India that led

to the migration of Brahmins. Migrant Brahmins made an impact upon the new locales in

which they settled. Datta explains that “[a]s they brought with them their ancient traditions,

they helped to build up a society with uniform characteristics throughout Northern India”.63

In addition to cultural contributions, migrating Brahmins “played an active part in the col-

onization and settlement of new areas” and, therefore, the arrival of Brahmins benefitted

Sircar, “Copper-Plate Grants from Bihar,” ‘Grant of Vikrama 1083’, 137.
Datta, Migrant Brāhmaṇas in Northern India, 225.
Ibid., 227.

both the new migrants and their local patrons.64 Most importantly, “[s]ome of them gradu-

ally developed into a fairly wealthy land-owning section, who enjoying the privileges trans-

ferred to them by the ruling class came to constitute a loyal element in the population, ready

to uphold and maintain the authority of the king.”65 Political turbulence may have been a

cause for migrating Brahmins, but it may also have been a draw. In her study of Brahmin

settlements, Upinder Singh writes that Brahmin migrations during the medieval period “co-

incided with the proliferation of kingdoms in various parts of the subcontinent” and may

have been driven by “new incentives” to seek out new territories rather than “pressures”

to abandon existing settlements.66 Singh explains that the rise of new kingdoms created a

“need for organizational coherence and legitimation” that “opened up new opportunities”

for Brahmins. Migrations during the medieval period resulted in the formation of Brahmin

settlements that “achieved trans-regional renown as centres of Vedic scholarship”.67 These

settlements created “avenues of employment” for Brahmins “in the administrative structure

of an ever-expanding number of royal courts”.68 Such royal patronage “played an impor-

tant role in promoting and sustaining” scholarship and the growth of settlements through

control of land provided the Brahmin “intelligensia with the security and wealth necessary

for sustained intellectual activity.”69 The copper-plate grants from the 11th–13th centuries

indicate that rulers throughout north Bihar were actively inviting Brahmins to the region.

This period is a time of political flux in eastern India that saw the disintegration of old em-
Datta, Migrant Brāhmaṇas in Northern India, 227.
Singh, “Brāhmaṇa Settlements in Ancient and Early Medieval India,” 163.

pires and the rise of successor states. These grants may be interpreted as attempts by these

new, local rulers to legitimize their power by offering patronage to Brahmins.

The Karnata dynasty was established during this period. However, no copper-plate or

other epigraphical records have been discovered that provide any indication of Brahmins

receiving grants of land from Karnata rulers. This absence of such records is perplexing

considering the presence of a great number of Brahmins who were resident in Mithila during

the time of pañjī prabandha, several of whom were closely associated with the courts of

Karnata kings. The lack of epigraphical evidence showing land grants may be explained by

a variety of factors, such as loss or destruction of a plate on account of neglect or natural

disaster. Despite the absence of copper-plate grants, evidence for land grants may exist

in the pañjī records, namely in the concept of the mūla. Although there is no evidence to

confirm or deny the speculation, it is quite possible that the village inhabited by the viji

purūṣa of a mūla was a grant of land made to that Brahmin, either by a Karnata king or a

previous ruler. Furthermore, the notion that the mūla represents a grant of land is conveyed

by the existence of the patra pañjī, which contains information on the territorial expansion

of a mūla into grāma-s or villages. The pañjī records do not explain the reasons for the

segmentation of a mūla into subordinate grāma-s, but it is possible that these sub-lineages

represent migrations of Brahmins resulting from grants of immovable property. Baidyanath

Saraswati writes that the invention of the mūla-grāma system was “the earliest method

adopted to bring together different members of the same family or the different families

of the same origin that had scattered about in course of time.”70 He further opines that the
Saraswati, “The Web of Maithil Clanship,” 32.

“system may have been closure on the nomadic habits of the people” and that the system

“might have originated from the migration of the people and their families.”71 Saraswati

does not provide additional details regarding his claims.

As described earlier, the patra pañjī of the Khauāla mūla shows that forty-three branches

were established by fifty-nine members of this lineage. It may be assumed that each of these

branches are the result of migration. There may be numerous factors for the migration, but

it is highly likely that the creation of new territorial sub-lineages is connected to the grant

of a particular village to a Brahmin. This assumption may be confirmed by the entry in the

Khauāla patra pañjī that states the rāja paṇḍita Saha went to Kurama. This rāja paṇḍita

may have been an appointed official similar to the purohita mentioned in Manu Smr̥ti 7.78,

who was a personal domestic priest of a ruler as well as a personal adviser. As the record

does not specifically state that Saha’s descendants are at Kurama, it is possible that Saha

himself was granted land in Kurama because he was a priest or minister in the court of a

king, or perhaps the land was given to him along with the appointment to that post. The

patra pañjī of the Khaṇḍavalā mūla also suggests that segmentation of this lineage is based

upon migration resulting from land grants. The record for this mūla shows that Ṭhakkura

Harāī went to Bhakharāī, Ṭhakkura Ananta Hari to Lakhanaura, and the descendants of

Ṭhakkura Dube are at Bhaura. The title ‘Ṭhakkura’ signifies that these individuals were

recognized as ‘lord’, a designation which may have been assumed or bestowed upon the

acquisition of property.

Saraswati, “The Web of Maithil Clanship,” 32.

Considering that there is a paucity of copper-plate and other documents that contain

information about land grants made by Karnata kings to Brahmins, I propose that the pañjī

records were developed for the additional purpose of capturing information about dona-

tions by the kings of Mithila to Brahmins. Although the reasons for the segmentation of a

mūla into various grāma-s may vary, it is possible to assume that each branch represents

the migration of a Brahmin from his ancestral home to a new location on account of the

reception of a grant of land in the village that is known as the grāma. The very existence

of the patra pañjī suggests a transformation of the idea of grants. In place of, or in addi-

tion to, providing each Brahmin with a separate document for each grant of land, the pañjī

offered a means for centrally managing such transactions. One would imagine that given

forty-three branches of the Khauāla mūla and thirty-six branches of the Khaṇḍavalā mūla

that there would be at least one extant record among these families. The patra pañjī pro-

vides an administrative convenience for bureaucrats in charge of managing land grants in

that it provides a high-level record of grants allocated to the various branches of a mūla.

The establishing of a patriline associated with a particular property within the territory

of a kingdom suggests another importance of the mūla. The creation of a hereditary lineage

implies that there are also specifications for succession of the rights to the lands given to

members of the lineage. Considering the importance of territory to the mūla, I offer that

the idea of the mūla also contains within it a means for facilitating inheritance of the ances-

tral property of the viji purūṣa. In Chapter 1, I explained that the pañjī records offered a

means for understanding all of the kin relationships explained in the smr̥ti, in particular that

they assisted in clearly specifying the agnatic sapiṇḍa relationships of ego to the seventh

generation and in diminishing the obscurites of the samānodaka relatives, from the eighth

generation to the fourteenth. Knowledge of these relatives is important not only for pur-

poses of marriage, but also for knowing relatives that are the heirs of an individual. The

connections between the defined kin categories and inheritance are specified in the smr̥ti

regarding inheritance. Both Manu and Yājñavalkya emphasize the succession to property

along the patriline. The connection between sapiṇḍa and property is made very clear by

Manu, who states that “water is to be given to three ancestors and the funereal offering to

the three as well; the fourth in descent is the giver of the offering, and the fifth one has no

connection”72 Moreover, he states that “property belongs to those within the sapiṇḍa cate-

gory, after that to the sakulya, and finally to the teacher or student”73 Manu also states that

if there are no heirs to the property, then it should be given to Brahmins that are learned in

the three Vedas and pure in conduct, for then the dharma is not violated.74 The smr̥ti-s con-

tain a vast amount of detail regarding the order of succession and the categories of kin that

fall into the order. For the purposes of the present discussion it is sufficient to say that the

intent of the laws of inheritance is to limit succession to property along the agnatic lineage.

“Once the immediate kindred of the deceased has been exhausted, all agnatic relationships

are deemed of greater propinquity than any remaining nonagnatic ones”.75

Manu Smr̥ti 9.186: याणामदु कं काय ि ष ु िप डः वतते । चतथु ः सं दात ैषां प मो नोपप ते ॥ (Jolly, Mânava Dharma-
Śâstra, 211).
Manu Smr̥ti 9.187: अन रः सिप डा त धनं भवेत ।् अत ऊ सकु ः ादाचायः िश एव वा ॥ (ibid.).
74 ु
Manu Smr̥ti 9.188: सवषाम भावे त ा णा िर भािगनः । िै व ाः शच ु यो दा ा था धम न हीयते (ibid.).
Trautmann, Dravidian Kinship, 255.

In the explanation of the ideology of the mūla, I explained that the indigenization of the

viji purūṣa created a local segment of the universal gotra. That idea becomes a bit clearly

when considering that gotraja or “those belonging to the gotra” are eligible for inheriting

property. Yājñavalkya states that after the sapiṇḍa-s and samānodaka-s, the property goes

to gotraja-s. As the viji purūṣa may have had relatives outside of Mithila, the property

belonging to him could have been inherited by these individuals. By limiting the gotra

relationship within the agnatic lineage to the extent to the viji purūṣa, the pañjī prabandha

excluded these individuals. Now, the pool of eligible gotraja-s would be the mūla-s of the

same gotra as recorded in the gotra pañjī.

By making available all information regarding various kin categories of an individual,

the ancestries recorded in the pañjī assist not only in securing proper marriages, but also

in identifying all of the legitimate heirs of an individual. The Khauāla patra pañjī, then,

may be interpreted as showing all of the grants of land given to the descendants of the viji

purūṣa Prajāpati. It contains a record of each major segment of the mūla in terms of the

descendant and the village to which he moved. The Karnata and previous kings may have

issued copper-plate grants to these Brahmins, but such records have not yet been identified.

The grants may have been lost by the families or destroyed. Manu recommends that the

king sign a land grant and provide information on his ancestry so that future kings will now

of the grant. If such a grant is lost or destroyed, then how would Brahmins prove their

rights to land in the event that the kingdom is conquered by a new king? By preserving

information regarding the location of branches of a mūla, the pañjī serves as a record for

land grants.

2.5 Lineage and Exclusion

Did the genealogists register every Brahmin present in the kingdom of Harisimhadeva dur-

ing the time of pañjī prabandha? By what criteria did the registrars determine if a particular

Brahmin family was to be included in the census? Was the registration mandatory, volun-

tary, or selective? Unfortunately, the available historical records do not provide information

on such demographic aspects of pañjī prabandha, nor do the pañjī records offer any addi-

tional insights. Given that there were close to one thousand mūla-s and only 180 of those

were active in the 1980s, one might speculate that the census was carried out on as many

Brahmins in the Karnata kingdom as possible. But, the significant drop in the number of

active mūla-s allows for some speculation regarding the usage of the pañjī system for pa-

trolling the bounds of the community through verification of inclusion and the enforcement

of exclusion.

The first case regards the migration of families that left Mithila for the Braja region of

Western India, which I briefly mentioned at the outset of the chapter. These Maithils refer to

themselves as ‘Brajastha’ or ‘Brajavasi’ Maithils or ‘those residing in Braja’. On account of

their migration from Mithila, the lineages of the Brajastha Maithils were excluded from the

pañjī records and they were not permitted to marry with the main community in Bihar. The

reasoning is that while the Brajastha Maithils claim to have followed the marriage rules of

pañjī prabandha even outside of Mithila, the marriages that took place were not authorized

by official pañjīkara-s and the marriages were not recorded in the genealogical registers. As

members of the main community had no way of verifying the validity of Brajastha Maithil

marriages after several generations, the migrant lineages were excluded and their mūla-s or

specific mūla-grāma-s were considered defunct. That hundreds of mūla-s are now defunct

suggests that the Brahmins of many mūla-s, such as the Brajastha Maithils, left Mithila at

some point between the 14th and 20th centuries.

The case of the Brajastha Maithil families is similar to the migrant lineages among

the Kanyakubja Brahmins. In his discussion of the conceptualization of the Kanyakubja

Brahmin community, Ravindra Khare points to the rise of Muslim rule in the 12th century as

a factor of segmentation and fracture. Muslim rule “was a potent factor which led Brahmins

to lay emphasis on the recognition and importance of territory, the susthān, the original

place of concentration”.76 Many Kanyakubja Brahmins migrated to Bengal and Orissa, and

while some families maintained genealogies, others did not. It appears that the geographical

movement of Kanyakubjas from their ancestral territories also coincided in a move “away

from the customs and practices of people in the original basin.”77 As a result, “[w]hen a

family migrated from the original place of concentration it was not remembered by those

at the original place” because social interaction was the basis of maintaining ties of kinship

and caste.

Khare, “The Kānya-Kubja Brahmins and Their Caste Organization,” 351–352.
Ibid., 352.

The second case is a speculative one regarding the exclusion of a Brahmin from the

genealogies at the time of registration. The Bangaon copper-plate indicates that a Brahmin

named Ghāṇṭūkaśarman from Kolancha was given land in north Bihar in the 12th century.

There is no record of Ghāṇṭūkaśarman in the pañjī and no knowledge of him outside of the

inscription. Suppose that Ghāṇṭūkaśarman settled in Tirabhukti and took up the profession

of teaching philosophy, grammar, and logic — subjects in which the grant acknowledges his

expertise — in the village he was granted. Suppose also that although Ghāṇṭūkaśarman was

quite satisfied with his new environs, he sought a bride from Kolancha and after marriage

brought her to Tirabhukti. He may have raised children and also arranged their marriages

with brides from families in his father’s ancestral home instead of with Brahmins local to

north Bihar. The growth of the family would have increased the size of Ghāṇṭūkaśarman’s

settlement, but all of the in-marrying brides would have arrived from Kolancha and all of

the children of these marriages would possess cognatic kin relations outside of Mithila. It

is quite possible that by the time of Harisimhadeva the descendants of Ghāṇṭūkaśarman

continued to prefer marital relations with those of Kolancha. When pañjī prabandha was

carried out, the family of Ghāṇṭūkaśarman may have opted out of the registration as all of

their affines were either in Kolancha or they preferred the association with their patriline in

Kolancha more than their geographical residence. Thus, the descendants of Ghāṇṭūkaśar-

man may have continued to reside in Mithila after pañjī prabandha and despite their con-

nection to the region over two centuries, they were not included in the Maithil community

as a matter of choice.

The concept of the mūla as a hereditary lineage connected to Mithila and to the Karnata

kingdom may be interpreted from a perspective of competition, or rather as a means to

limit competition. I offer that the creation of the mūla provided the Karnata kings with

a local community of ministers and scholars, but it also provided Brahmins with a means

for restricting access and opportunity to the Karnata court to Brahmins from outside of

the community. The copper-plate grants discussed above indicate that Brahmins had been

settling in north Bihar for centuries. They may have been serving in the courts of various

kings as ministers and scholars. But, their employment may have been unstable at times of

political upheaval when a local king was defeated by another, who established new control

in the region. The arrival of new rulers would likely entail the arrival of new Brahmins and

other officials who served them. This might limit opportunities for existing Brahmins, as

the new kings would give preference to Brahmins and others with whom they maintained

pre-existing relationships.

The Karnata dynasty to which king Harisimhadeva belonged was founded by Nanyadeva

in 1097 ëí. When Nanyadeva established control in Tirabhukti it is likely that he had

Brahmin ministers and other advisers in his employ. Vinoda Bihari Varma writes that the

founders of the Karana Kayatha community were individuals who were in the service of

Nanyadeva when he established the Karnata dynasty.78 A pañjī prabandha was also car-

ried out for the Karana Kayasthas during the time of Harisimhadeva. While the Karana

Kayasthas preserve the tradition that they came to Mithila with Nanyadeva, there are no

“िमिथला पर रा म कहल जाइछ जे करण काय क कतेको मूल क बीजी प ु ष ‘काणाट ्’ सं िमिथला म नायदेवक स अयलाह ।”
(Varmā, Maithila karaṇa kāyasthaka pāṁjika sarvekṣaṇa, 24).

such traditions among the Maithil Brahmins. It is highly probable that among Nanyadeva’s

ministers were Brahmins from Bengal and other regions over which the erstwhile Pala rulers

held sway. D. C. Sarkar states that the Pala kings maintained matrimonial relations with

rulers of the Karnata region to which they traced their ancestry.79 The Palas continued to

maintain “intimate relations” with south India and that their south Indian relations “often

received appointments under the Pālas”.80 The Sena kings, which replaced the Palas also

came from the Karnata region. Sircar points to the fact that Vijayasena established Sena

control in Bengal at nearly the same time as his Karnata contemporary Nanyadeva estab-

lished a kingdom in Tirabhukti. “It has to be remembered that,” he writes, “when several

small chieftaincies and big kingdoms under South Indians were flourishing in the Bengal-

Bihar region, they must have been patronising South Indians in the same way as the Muslim

rulers of India entertained Musalmans of other countries at their courts.”81 There are no epi-

graphical or literary records to substantiate Sircar’s claim that Karnatas had brought ‘south

Indians’ to Bihar. It is of interest that the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa lists the ‘Karnāṭas’ as a com-

munity of ‘Drāviḍa’ Brahmins. Whether these ‘Karnāṭa’ Brahmins were given preference

by Karnāṭa Kshatriyas is difficult to say. Whatever the case may be regarding migration

of Brahmins to the Karnata kingdom between 1097 and 1324 Brahmins, by the time of

Harisimhadeva, there was a conscious effort among the Brahmins of the region to enforce

restrictions on access to the court, to land, and to kinship relationships.

Sircar, “Aspects of Marriage in North Indian Society,” 25.
Sircar, “Migration of Southerners to East India,” 57.
Ibid., 59.

2.6 Brahmins and the State

The organization of the mūla pañjī and structure of the uteṛha pañjī make it clear that an

important function of the mūla was the regulation of marriage through the creation of an en-

dogamous community. “The persistent feature of Indian society, its basic building block,”

as Pauline Kolenda put forth, “is the endogamous descent-group.”82 While endogamy may

be the ‘persistent feature’ of caste organization, its principles are not uniform throughout

the Brahmin varṇa. Irawati Karve states that there is a large “circle for seeking marital

alliances, but there is always an outer limit for this expansion which is different for each

caste” and that “[t]his region of endogamy may comprise from a few administrative districts

to a whole linguistic region.”83 Moreover, “[t]he consciousness of caste status keeps mar-

riage territorially and genealogically within a group which, from old times, is established as

an affinal group, while the taboos on the marriage of near kin and the prescription of local

exogamy tend to spread the affinal group over a comparatively large area and to include a

considerable number of families within it.”84 The territorial boundaries of endogamy may

coincide with the boundaries of political entities. M. N. Srinivas writes that political sys-

tems of pre-modern India were “characterized by clear territorial cleavages marking off the

territory of one chieftain or raja from the territories of others” and “above the chieftain or

raja, there was the viceroy of an emperor or the emperor himself, and below the chief were

the headmen of single villages.”85 With such a hierarchy of authority, the boundaries of a

Kolenda, “The Changing Caste System in India,” 83.
Karve, Kinship Organization in India, 125.
Ibid., 125–126.
Srinivas, “Caste in Modern India,” 15.

local ruler’s domain were not constant and were “subject to expansion or contraction de-

pending upon the military prowess of the chief” and “the firmness with which the viceroy

of emperor exercised his control.”86 While these boundaries were not stable, “at any single

moment they constituted effective barriers between people living in different chiefdoms.”87

Srinivas emphasizes that “[s]uch a political system naturally imposed severe limits on the

horizontal extension of caste ties.” He concludes that “political frontiers determined the

effective, if not the maximum, social space of each caste living within them.”88

The enumeration of ‘Maithil’ among the pañca gauḍa shows that the Brahmins of this

region had developed an ‘outer limit’ to their yoni-saṃbandha that kept marriages ‘terri-

torially and genealogically’ within this group. But the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa provides no basis

for comprehending the definition of the term ‘Maithil’ and the characteristics of its endog-

amous principles. Was the term a descriptive label for Brahmins who resided in that region

or was it an ascriptive label for individuals born into an already established community

of ‘Maithil Brahmins’? As explained in the preceding chapter and in the above section,

the pañjī prabandha established without a doubt that the designation ‘Maithil’ was to be

known as being ascriptive. Just as Vijñāneśvara affirmed the boundaries of sapiṇḍa as es-

tablished by Yājñavalkya in order to specify the genealogical frontier beyond which a bride

and groom must be selected, so also did the implementers of pañjī prabandha define the

ascriptive and territorial extent for the ‘Maithil Brahmins’ at the primordial generation of

the viji purūṣa and the mūla that is established upon him. The establishment of the mūla, the

Srinivas, “Caste in Modern India,” 15.

conceptualization of the viji purūṣa as the ‘outer limit’ of an agnatic lineage, the localiza-

tion of the gotra, and the selective registration of Brahmins in Mithila point to the fact that

the creation of the Maithil Brahmin jāti was an endeavor intended to produce a community

of Brahmins who were ‘known’ to be such.

The rise of named patrilines attached to territories may be interpreted as part of a larger

trend in the changing nature of state formation in the post-Gupta period (c. 800–1300 ëí).

Offering a challenge to the old ‘feudalism’ narrative, Romila Thapar argues that the forma-

tion of Brahmin lineages associated with newly established kingdoms represents a concep-

tualization of state and society that is more properly termed as but should be more properly

termed as an “integrative polity”.89 Thapar writes that an important aspect of this ‘inte-

grative polity’ is the evolution of the relationship between the king and the Brahmin. In

earlier periods it was based upon “both dependency and competition”, but during the me-

dieval period, it shifted more towards dependency because the benefits for Brahmins be-

came more tangible.90 Thapar explains that state formation in earlier periods, particularly

in the first millenium êëí was driven by competition between the king and Brahmin. By

the first millenium ëí, rituals of consecration and other processes of legitimizing the rule

of kings had begun to equalize the competition between Brahmin and king. Land grants,

Thapar explains, was the key to achieving such balance: “the brahman validated the king as

a kshatriya or performed a similar act, and in return received wealth in the form of land.”91

The granting of lands by kings to Brahmins changed the nature of the relationship. Thapar

Thapar, Early India, 445.
Ibid., 453.

writes that “wealth in earlier times had been movable and barely heritable, whereas now it

was land and therefore immovable, permament and heritable.”.92 The changing notion of

property “allowed the brahman to appropriate the authority of the kshatriya and establish

a ruling lineage.”93 Moreover, “[t]he branch lineages may not have been kin-related but

the fiction of kinship had to be maintained, and this fiction attempted to follow the norma-

tive rules, thus adding to the emphasis on caste”.94 The establishing of ‘ruling lineages’ for

Brahmins coincided with another trend. Thapar writes that “Territories emerged under new

names and ruling lineages were associated with territorial names rather than only with clan


In a study of Rajput lineages in Gujarat, A. M. Shah notes that the strength and depth

of lineage groups are associated with control of land.96 Shah concludes that the expansion

of lineages is linked to the inhabitation and ownership of land by families. The residential

stability of families fostered greater kinship unity between related families in a particular

locale, which in turn, led to increased social and political power of the lineages to which

these families belonged. Shah notes that lineage groups have grown substantially over the

past during each generation since the early 19th century and that the “demographic growth

is accompanied by spread of interest in genealogies kept by professional genealogists and

mythographers”.97 Shah explains that this interest in genealogies is related to claims to status

made both by lineages within a caste and by caste groups as a whole, and genealogies are
Thapar, Early India, 453.
Ibid., 445.
Shah, “Lineage Structure and Change in a Gujarat Village,” 132.
Ibid., 143.

seen as a means of legitimizing these claims. Although Shah does not explicitly state it as

a conclusion, it is possible to analyze the connection between lineage and genealogy in the

Gujarat village in question as a means to maintain status and power in a territory through

some sort of official sanction.

Much of what Thapar writes may be applied to Mithila in the 14th century. But, as

shown by the analysis of the pañjī prabandha so far, the lineages established by Brahmins

were certainly ‘kin-related’, moreover kinship was no mere ‘fiction’, but a fundamental part

of the organization of the lineage.

It is within this context that I propose that the pañjī prabandha and the creation of the

mūla was intended to produce a community of Brahmins affiliated with the Karnata king-

dom. By stating that a certain number of lineages are to be considered Maithil Brahmins,

the Brahmins of the Karnata kingdom ensured a stable relationship with the king. Min-

isters and other positions within the Karnata administration would be filled by Brahmins

listed in the pañjī records. Moreover, the linking of Brahmin lineages to lands within the

Karnata kingdom further ensured that Brahmins would remain within the boundaries of the


2.7 Conclusion

The tale of Māthava the Videgha suggests that Brahmins did not reside to the east of the

Sadānīra until the king had brought Agni, the sacrificial fire, over the river. After that the

land become home to many Brahmins. These early Brahmins and those who were resident

at the court of Janaka at Mithila may have been the ideological and eponymous ancestors of

the ‘Maithils’ described in the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa, but it was not until the implementation of

the pañjī prabandha during the 14th century under the rule of king Harisimhadeva, that a

historical community of Maithil Brahmins can be recognized. The foundation of this com-

munity is the mūla, or the lineages created through the genealogical census operations. As

I have discussed in this chapter, the formation of these lineages gave Brahmins a territo-

rial identity by indigenizing the apical ancestors to the geographical domain of the Karnata


The analysis of the Maithil mūla presented in this chapter suggests that these named

territorial patrilines were conceived for purposes beyond the arrangement of marriages.

The mūla established a means for identifying a Brahmin by both his ancestry as well as

his geographical location. It also provided the king with documented information about a

Brahmin’s pedigree and helped to create known lineages of Brahmins with which a royal

dynasty could establish cooperative relationships.

We now know what the definition and boundaries of the ‘Maithils’ mentioned in the

Sahyādri Khaṇḍa. This ten-fold classification of Brahmins given in the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa

remained durable. By the 16th century, it appears to be accepted as a matter of fact. The

nibandhakara Maheśa Ṭhakkura, whose views on sapiṇḍa were presented in the first chap-

ter, wrote a series of legal digests on customs as they pertain to Mithila. His Dāyasāra, a

treatise on inheritance and partition of property, has a section called ‘Varṇavicāra’, in which

he describes the basics of the castes and refers to the ten types of Brahmins as consisting of

the following:

सार ताः का कु ा गौडा मैिथलो लाः ।

प गौडा समा ाता िव ो रवािसनः ॥
माथरु ं मागधं िवनेित । के िच ठि िश ाः —
काणाटा त ैल ा महारा ा ग ु रा था ।
प ािवडा समा ाता िव दि णवािसनः ॥98

The Sarasvatas, Kanyakubjas, Gaudas, Maithilas, and Utkalas; together they are known
as the Panca Gauda, residing north of the Vindhya.
The Mathura and Magadha are excluded.99 Some readings offer the following:
Karnatas, Tailangas, Maharashtras, Gurjaras, together they are known as the Panca
Dravida, residing south of the Vindhya.

Maheśa Ṭhakkura’s description of Brahmins is nearly identical to the classification given

in the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa. But, his description provides a more precise geographical distinc-

tion between the Brahmins. The ‘Gauḍa’ and ‘Drāviḍa’ divisions are defined as “resid-

ing north of the Vindhya” (vindhyasyottaravāsinaḥ) and “residing south of the Vindhya”

(vindhyadakṣiṇavāsinaḥ), respectively, meaning that the Vindhya mountain range that cuts

across central India serves as a topographical boundary between the two, which does not

occur in the classification found in the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa. We can only assume that the

distinctions on account of food habits, Vedic schools, and especially marriage and kinship

customs grew greater over a course of four centuries. The reference to “Maithila” in the

pañca gauḍa division indicates that the Brahmins of the region were already perceived as

having a geographical designation at the minimum, and perhaps as bearing some cultural
Maheśa Ṭhakkura, “Dāyasāra,” 96.
The specific exclusion of the Mathura and Magadha or ‘Maga’ communities by Maheśa Ṭhakkura is
curious. see Miśra, Brāhmaṇotpatti-darpaṇa.

distinctiveness from the neighboring Kanyakubjas to the west, the Gaudas to the east, and

the Utkalas to the south, such as language and other local attributes. That Maheśa Ṭhakkura

references the ‘Gauḍa’ and ‘Drāviḍa’ distinctions in the 16th century shows that the ten-fold

division of the Brahmin varṇa from the 12th century proved to be quite durable.

The importance of pañjī prabandha and the concept of the mūla in the social organi-

zation of the Maithil Brahmins is exemplified by another point: there are no internal ter-

ritorial divisions among the Maithils. Let us take the case of the Kanyakubja Brahmins.

As reported by M. A. Sherring in Hindu Tribes and Castes (1872), the Kanyakubja “tribe”

consists of five “sub-tribes”, namely the “Kanoujiya Proper”, “Sarjupâria or Sarwaria”, “Ji-

jhotia”, “Sânadhiya”, and the “Kanoujiya Brahmans of Bengal”, which is itself sub-divided

into “Vârendra”, “Rârhiya”, “Pashchâtiya”, and “Dakshinâtiya Vaidik”.100 The classifica-

tion shows that the Kanyakubja community fractured into territorial grouping, including a

group of migrants to Bengal. While they all belong to the Kanyakubja class, each of these

sub-castes are endogamous. For example, the Sarayuparinas traditionally do not marry with

the Sanadhiyas. Moreover, there are “sub-tribes” such as the Sarayuparina, who consider

themselves proper ‘castes’ in their own right, indeed with their own sub-regional divisions,

to the extent that some pandits contest the subordinate status and insist upon the indepen-

dence of the group.101 In describing the organization of the Maithil Brahmins, Sherring

writes only that the community has four internal divisions. The pañjī prabandha may be

responsibile for the absence of territorial fission among the Maithil Brahmins, which may

Sherring, Hindu Tribes and Castes, 23.
Khelāḍīlāla, Sarayūpārīna Brāhmaṇa Vaṃśāvalī, 3.

have resulted in the creation of exogamous sub-castes. The pañjī system controlled mar-

riage and recorded migrations in order to ensure that knowledge of kin and non-kin remained

intact despite geographical dispersion. But these internal divisions are an important feature

of Maithil Brahmin caste organization and structure, and are based upon the status of the

mūla-s. The emergence of status ranking and the importance of the creation of hereditary

lineages of Brahmins connected to the state is discussed in the next chapter.

Śākhā Gotra Pravara

Samaveda Śāṇḍilya Śāṇḍilya, Asita, Devala


Yajurveda Vatsa Aurva, Cyāvana, Bhārgava, Jāmadagnya, Āplavāna

Kāśyapa Kāśyapa, Avātsara, Naidhruva
Parāśara Śakti, Vaśiṣṭha, Parāśara
Kātyāyana Kātyāyana, Viṣṇu, Āṅgirasa
Bhāradvāja Bhāradvāja, Āṅgirasa, Bārhaspatya
Sāvarṇa Aurva, Cyāvana, Bhārgava, Jāmadagnya, Āplavāna
Gārgya Gārgya, Dhr̥ta, Vaiśampāyana, Kauśika, Māṇḍavyātharvaṇa
Kauśika Kauśika, Atri, Jamadagni
Gautama Aṅgira, Vaśiṣṭha, Bārhaspatya
Kr̥ṣṇātreya Kr̥ṣṇātreya, Āplavāna, Sārasvata
Vaśiṣṭha Vaśiṣṭha, Atri, Bārhaspatya
Viṣṇuvr̥ddhi Viṣṇuvr̥ddhi, Paurakutsa, Trasadasya
Maudgalya Maudgalya, Āṅgirasa, Bārhaspatya
Kauṇḍinya Astika, Kauśika, Kauṇḍinya
Kapila Satatapatya, Kauṇḍinya, Kapilya
Taṇḍi Taṇḍi, Saṅkhya, Āṅgirasa
Upamanyu Upamanya, Āṅgirasa, Bārhaspatya
Alambukākṣa Gārgya, Gautama, Vaśiṣṭha
Jātukarṇya Vaśiṣṭha, Atri, Jātukarṇya

Table 2.1: The śākhā, gotra, and pravara of the Maithil Brahmins.

Gotra Mūla
Śāṇḍilya Digho (Dirghosa), Sarisaba, Pabaulī (Pagaulī), Khaṛaura (Khaṇḍavalā), Gaṅ-
gaulī, Yajuāṛa (Jajivāla), Sodarapur, Mahuā, Yamugāma, Kariana, [Suarī],
Sajhuāra, Paṇḍaul, Dahibhata, Tilaya (Tilaī), [Māhara], [Simbalāma], Siṃhāsama
(Siṃhāśrama), [Karahiā], Anāri (Allāri), Koiyāra, Talahanapura, Parisarā,
[Prasaṇḍā], Viranāma, Uttamapura, Kodariā, Chatimana,‘[Barebā], Machavāla,
Gaṅgaura, Bhaṭaura, Budhaura, Brahmapura, [Karahiā **], [Gaṅguāla],
Ghosiyāma (Ghuriyāma), Chatauni, Bhiguala, [Nanautī], Tapanapura, Hohiyāra
Vatsa Pali, Hariyāma, Ṭ ̣ aṅka, Ghusauta, Jalaya (Jalaī), Koiyāra, Karmaha, Buddha,
Maraṛha, Reoṛa, Vahira, Paru, Tisauta, Phandaha, Ucita, Aṛayī (Alayī), Babhani,
Soini, Bhaṇḍāri, Sakuna, Tapanpura, Ḍaṛai, Karai, Viṭhuāra, Jarahari, Satalakha,
Baraba, Sūrī, Yajuāra, Pohaddī, Bhanna, Bāṛharāṛha, Varuāla, Nanaura, Bhanna,
Lāhī, Citrapalī, Rantavāsa, Saraunī
Kāśyapa Oinavāra, Khauāla (Khauāṛe), Darihara, Baliyāsa, Kusumāre, Maṛare, Satalakhe,
Visaivāra, Naravāre, Parue, Sakaṛivāra, Bhariye, Kaṭaivāra, Pakaṛiye, Meran-
dovāra, Nonītavāra, Vitaivāra, Naguradahe, Vindhavāra, Bhaduāre, Naraune,
Dostivāra, Jagatī, Chādana, Panicobhe, Sūrimāhā, Malichāme, Dahalā
Parāśara Suragaṇe, Naraune, Sakarivāra, Pihavāre, Suraivāra, Sakarahore, Suraure,
Baṛāme, Tilaivāra, Suarī, Śambhuāle, Barabe
Sāvarṇa Pañcobhe, Barabe
Bhāradvāja Kaligāme, Belauñce, Ekahare, Soinvāra, Dhaurī, Barabe, Bhūtaharī, Goṛharā, Ḍo-
Gautama Brahmapura, Surarivāra, Budhaure, Pakariye, Koiāra, Suraure, Basuāre, Surau-
ravāra, Auriyā, Uttamapura, Paṇḍubā
Kātyāyana Kujalivāra, Nonautī, Jallakī
Kauśika Nikutavāra, Nikatī
Kr̥ṣṇātreya Bhūsvare
Vaśiṣṭha Nānāpura
Viṣṇuvr̥ddhi Kothue
Maudagala Ratavāla
Kauṇḍinya Parisari
Kapilya Piparauna
Taṇḍila Parasaṇḍa
Upayanyu Ekahariva
Alambukākṣa Brahmapuraka
Gārgya Baseha
Jātukarṇya Devahariye

Table 2.2: Classification of active Maithil Brahmin mūla-s according to gotra.

Chapter 3

The Best of Brahmins

As discussed in the previous chapter, the mūla construct that is the basis of social orga-

nization among the Maithil Brahmins was established both for the regulation of marriage

and the creation of hereditary Brahmins lineages connected to the Karnata state. By an-

choring the lineage to a village, the concept of the mūla ensured a fixed territorial basis for

Brahmins of these lineages. An analysis of the genealogies shows that the pañjī records

continued to expand in detail and scope well after they were first developed. This indi-

cates that genealogists continued to actively record each new marriage and birth within the

community and it acknowledges the acceptance of the pañjī system by the Maithil Brah-

mins. However, this analysis also reveals that genealogists were compiling information

about mūla-s and their members beyond what might be required for determining suitable

marriages. The pañjī records contain detailed information about administrative positions

and scholarly titles. What might be the significance of preserving details about the achieve-

ments of individual Brahmins?

In this chapter I aim to situate pañjī prabandha within the context of interactions be-

tween Brahmins and the Karnata state in order to examine additional developments of the

mūla construct. I focus upon the development of a lineage ranking system that resulted in

the hierarchical segmentation of the Maithil Brahmin community. I demonstrate that the

ranking of mūla-s was related not only to marriage, but also to the underlying notions of

Brahmin identity and personhood that formed the ideological basis for the pañjī prabandha.

The rank system resulted in the creation initially of three grades within the community,

which expanded to five grades as a result of inter-marriage between the grades. Over time

these five grades began to function as sub-castes, although there was no mandatory endog-

amous exclusion between the grades. While the Maithil community did not fracture into

territorial sub-castes, the five grades themselves became a distinctive part of a Brahmin’s

identity. Moreover, I discuss the issues of individual status and lineage ranking in terms of

the proposition raised by Śabara, which was discussed in the first chapter. I explain that the

status and rank systems were developed as ways of additionally knowing the identity of a


3.1 Brahmins before Pañjī Prabandha

The pañjī prabandha was instituted during a period of relative calm in medieval north Bihar

that followed the demise of the Pala empire of Bengal and other powers, and preceded the

rise of the Delhi Sultanate. Before rising to power in 1097,1 Nanyadeva (r. 1097–1147)

was a Karnata kṣatriya who served as a chief under either the Chalukya or Pala kings. He

An inscription at the ruins of the fort of Simraon reads “न े िब िवघ ु सि त शाकवष स ावणे िशतदले
मिु निसि ित ाम ् ातौ शन ै र िदन े किरवैिरल ि ना ् ” (Choudhary, “Simraon Inscription of
देव नृपित दधात वा मु ॥
Nanyadeva,” 124). Radhakrishna Chaudhary interprets this date as being a Saturday in the month of Sravara,
in the naksatra of Svati in the year 1019 Saka, which he equates to on July 10, 1097 ëí (“Political History of
North Bihar,” 306).

appears to have taken advantage of the instability in northern Bihar that preceded the final

decline of the Pala kingdom of Bengal, which had ruled over most of Bihar. In addition

to being a statesman and a soldier, Nanyadeva was also a scholar of the performing arts.

He wrote a commentary on the Nāṭyaśāstra that is titled Bharatabhāṣya. In this treatise he

refers to himself as a “chief of the feudal lords” (mahāsāmantādhipati) and an “observer (or

upholder) of dharma” (dharmāvaloka).2 So, it may be assumed that he commanded both

territorial and social authority within the Pala regime and that he had gained the allegiance

of various other officials, particularly those who presided over the administrative regions of

the Pala empire that lie in north Bihar. It is possible that Nanyadeva himself presided over

some portion of northern Bihar and that as Pala control in the region began to disintegrate

in the late 12th century, he made an effort to assert his control over the bhukti or province

of north Bihar known as Tirabhukti. As he is said to have ruled for fifty years, it is apparent

that he managed to establish enough peace with other successor states to the Pala empire that

surrounded his realm — the Gahadavala kings to the west in Kanauj and the Sena rulers to

the east in Bengal — in order to extend and maintain his control across the expanse of north

Bihar. He built his capital at Simraon in the western portion of Tirabhukti that was known as

Camparanya, or modern ‘Champaran’. After the death of Nanyadeva, the kingdom is said

to have been divided between his sons Malladeva and Gangadeva.3 Tradition holds that

Malladeva extended Karnata control into Nepal and that he settled there, while Gangadeva

(r. 1147–1188) carried on in Tirabhukti.

The colophon at the end of the first part (‘Uddeśādhyāya’) of the Bharatabhāṣya reads “इित महासाम ािधपित-
धमावलोक- ीम ा पित-िवरिचते सर ती- दय-भूषणे भरतभा े थमा ायः ॥ (Desāī, Bhāratabhāṣyam, pt. 1, 15).
Sircar, Studies in the Society and Administration of Ancient and Medieval India, 140.

It is presumed that the Karnatas continued to administer Tirabhukti in the same fashion

as when it was a province of the Pala empire. The historian R. S. Sharma writes that the

organization of the kingdom “could not have been much different from that of the Senas

who were ruling over northern and eastern Bengal in the same century.”4 Gangadeva is said

to have introduced a system of territorial administration in the kingdom. Tradition holds

that he organized the kingdom into pargana-s, or administrative and fiscal divisions, and

that he established a bureaucracy in each of these regions for the collection of revenue and

general supervision, as well as village councils for more local administration.5 These devel-

opments were carried on by Narasimhadeva (r. 1188–1227), the son of Gangadeva, as well

as by Narasimhadeva’s son Ramasimhadeva (r. 1227–1285). These two kings expanded

the administrative structure of the Karnata realm by appointing law enforcement officials

through the kingdom and accountants for each village.6 It appears that the administrators

of the Karnata state had begun to grow increasingly powerful by the time Ramasimhadeva

yielded the throne to his son Saktisimhadeva (r. 1285–1295). Of these administrators, the

ministers directly associated with the king’s court appear to have become particularly pow-

erful, to the extent that they began to exert their control over the kingdom. The influence

of the ministers becomes clear during the reign of Saktisimhadeva. The traditional account

in Mithila, as conveyed by Shyam Narayan Singh, is that Saktisimhadeva was a “despotic

ruler” and his “despotism offended the nobles” to the point that “one of his ministers es-

Sharma, “Government and Political Institutions,” 353.
Singh, History of Tirhut, 62.

tablished a “council of seven elders, as a check upon the autocratic powers of the king.”7

Radhakrishna Chaudhary speculates that “There seems to have been some sort of a palace

revolution which deprived the king of his actual power.”8 The revolution was aimed at get-

ting Saktisimhadeva to abdicate the throne in favor of his son, Harisimhadeva. Chaudhary

writes that “The executive power was naturally vested in the Council of Elders who seem to

have run the administration till Harisimha came of age and took over the reigns of govern-

ment.”9 The above gives the sense that the “Council of Seven Elders”, whoever they were,

were powerful enough to orchestrate a supposed coup against the king and to enthrone a

successor of their choice, persumably one they could influence more effectively. Whether

he came to power as a result of a coup or not, Harisimahdeva (r. 1295–1326) replaced his

father as the ruler of Tirabhukti. It was under the reign over Harisimhadeva that pañjī pra-

bandha was instituted. The above suggests that Brahmins had attained powerful positions

in the Karnata kingdom.

The few epigraphical records from the period preceding the rise of the Karnatas and

from the early years of Karnata rule shed some light upon the authorities who were operat-

ing in Tirabhukti. There is a copper-plate grant from Panichobh, near modern Darbhanga,

dated to the 12th century. The grant was not made by a Karnata king, but by someone

named Samgramagupta, who describes himself as a “great king” (maharājādhirāja) and as

a “governor” (mahāmaṇḍālika).10 Additionally, the grant enumerates several officials such

Singh, History of Tirhut, 63.
Chaudhary, “The Karṇāṭa Kingdom of Mithila,” 116.
10 ् ामग ु देवो िवजयी । (Choudhary, “Pani-
Panchobh copper-plate, line 5: “[...] महाराजािधराज महामा डिलक ीमत सं
chobh Copperplate of Samgramagupta,” 114).

as the “minister of war and peace” (mahāsāndhivigrahika), “military strategist or comman-

der” (mahāvyūhapati), “chief officer” (mahādhikārika), “keeper of the royal seal” (mahā-

mudrādhikarika), “head of the village councils” (mahāmahattaka), and a host of others.11

While there are no other records that shed light upon Samgramagupta, his usage of such

titles on grants suggests that he may truly have held an important position in the Karnata

kingdom, such as governor of a district. He claim to being a “great king” may be more

embellishment than any actual position he may have held. In any case, Samgramagupta

was granting lands in Tirabhukti to Brahmins. There is also evidence that officials of the

Pala empire were exerting a level of independence well before the arrival of the Karnata.

In this previous chapter, I briefly mentioned the Bangoan plate from the 11th century as

one of the few pieces of evidence showing grants of lands to Brahmins in north Bihar. This

plate deserves a bit more attention. Although the Bangaon plate is stamped with the name

of the Pala king Vigrahapala III, the real donor of the land is a Brahmin minister named

Ghaṇṭīśa.12 The grant states Ghaṇṭīśa gave lands out of his own possession to the donee

Ghāṇṭūkaśarman. The minister also makes it a point to inscribe upon the plate that he is

the son of Yogesvara and the grandson of Vivada, and that this Vivada’s mother is Iddha-

hala, who is the daughter of Gohanaka and the granddaughter of Kacchha, who came to

Tirabhukti from Krodanca (Kolanca).13 The plate is important to our understanding of the

Panchobh copper-plate, lines 6–7: “[...] महासाि िव िहक महा हू पित महािधकािरक महाम ु ािधकािरक महामह क [...]”
(Choudhary, “Panichobh Copperplate of Samgramagupta,” 114).
Sircar, “Bangaon Plate,” 51.
Lines 49–50: “[...] Krodanchan=niriyaya Kachchha iti yah sad-Vad-Brahmananam sthi-
tis=tasmad=Gohanako dvij-ottama-griham=visrama-bhur=vajvanam | asmad Iddhahal=eti yatra-Vivadau
Yogesvaro yat-sutah khyatas=Tunga ito=pi nirmmala-yasa Ghantisa-nam=atmajah [...]” (Sircar, “Bangaon
Plate,” 57).

politics of north Bihar at this period because it not only shows Brahmins granting lands to

other Brahmins to settle them in Tirabhukti, but it also shows that Brahmin ministers were

conscious of their own ancestral territorial ties.

Who were these ministers who had gained enough authority in the Karnata court to

oust the ‘despotic’ king Saktisimhadeva and to put in place his successor, Harisimhadeva?

Some evidence may be gleaned from both literary records writing during the Karnata pe-

riod and from the pañjī records. Both of these sources provide insight into the relationship

between Brahmins and the kingdom. The excerpt of the mūla pañjī of the Khauāla lin-

eage discussed in the previous chapters reveals that several descendants of the viji purūṣa

Prajāpati had attained important positions in the social and political life of north Bihar. Pra-

jāpati himself is referred to as mahāmahopādhyāya “highly eminent teacher”, as are Har-

iśarmmaṇā, Nayapāṇi, Ratnapāṇi, Bhāvāditya, Nayāditya, and Dharāditya. Prajāpati’s sons

Vācaspati and Umāpati are referred to as mahopādhyāya “great teacher”, as are Haripāṇi

and Harāditya. Moreover, the aforementioned Hariśarmmaṇā is not only a mahāmahopā-

dhyāya, but a dharmādhikaraṇika “justice of the law”, as well. The pañjī not only tells the

descent of the Khauāla mūla from the viji purūṣa, but also expresses the fact that the apical

ancestor and a great number of his descendants were recognized as accomplished scholars

and that at least one held an important judicial position under a Karnata king. Similarly, the

pañjī record for the Visaphī mūla of the Kāśyapa gotra reveals that this lineage was closely

associated with the administration of the kingdom:

गढ िवसफी सं बीजी िव श ु हरािद
ाः ए सतो ु कमािद ः । ए सतौ
ए सतो ु साि िव ािहक देवािद-
राजव भ भाविद ो । सि िव ािहक देवािद ु रणागािरक वीरे र वाितक न ैबि क (६४/०५)

धीरे र स ीय महासाम ािधपित महामह क गणे र भा डागािरक यटे र ानागिरक हरद म-ु
ाह क ल ीद राजाव भ शभु द ाः । त पाणागिरक न ैबि क वीरे र स ि य गणे र राजव भ
शभु द ाः ना परु ि पािल सं कामे र दौ । अपरौवाितक धीरे र भा डागािरक यटे रो मह ौरवािस
माधवभािगन ेयो हरद ल ीद महथौर वासी यमगु ाम स कािटयमान े दौ ॥14

The founder of Gaḍha-Visaphī is Viṣṇuśarmmā. His son is Harāditya, whose son is

Karmāditya. Karmāditya’s two sons are the sāndhivigrahika Devāditya and the rajā-
vallabha Bhavāditya. The seven sons of Devāditya are the raṇāgārika Vīreśvara, the
vartika naibandhika Dhīreśvara, the mahāsāmantādhipati mahāmahattaka Gaṇeśvara,
the bhāṇḍāgarika Yaṭeśvara, the sthānāgarika Haradatta, the mudrahastaka Lakṣmī-
datta, and the rajavallabha Śubhadatta. Of these, the parṇāgarika naibandika Vīreś-
vara, the dear Gaṇeśvara, and the rajāvallabha Śubhadatta are from the daughter of
Kāmeśvara of Tripāli-Nānyapura mūla-grāma. The others, the vartika Dhīreśvara,
the bhāṇḍāgarika Yaṭeśvara, mahāpauravāsi Haradatta and Lakṣmīdatta, are from the
daughter of Kāṭiryamāna of Yāmugame-Mahathaura mūla-grāma.

The descendants of this Viṣṇuśarmmā were accomplished statesmen. These Brahmins of

Visaphī served as “minister of war and peace” (sāndhivigrahika), “chief of the vassals”

(mahāsāmantādhipati),15 “head of village councils” (mahāmahattaka),16 “royal advisor”

(rājavallabha), “officer in charge of the armory” (raṇāgārika), “officier in charge of legal

codes and digests” (vartika-naibandhika),17 “officer in charge of stores” (bhāṇḍāgarika),

“officer in charge of the provinces” (sthānāgarika), “officer in charge of the royal seal”

(mudrahastaka),18 These individuals were not only noted administrators and governors,

but they were respected scholars and they wrote several important smr̥ti texts. The Sugati-

sopāna of Gaṇeśvara provides more insight into the position of this family in the Karnata

kingdom. In the introduction to this work he writes:

Mūla Pañjī written by Pañjīkara Paṇḍita Modanānda Jhā, folio 15/01.
Sircar, Indian Epigraphical Glossary, 179.
Ibid., 215.
Seems to be a synonym of the mudrādhikārina described by Sircar (Indian Epigraphical Glossary, 204).

अभू वे ािद ः सिचवितलको मैिथलपतेिनजा ोितदिलतिरपच ु ा तमसः ।
सम ाद ा ो िसतस ु दक पलमणौ सम ु ूत े यि न ि् जकुलसरोज ैिवकिसतम ॥
् [१]
अ ा हादानतडागयागभूदानदेवालयपूतिव ः ।
वीरे रोऽजायत मि राजः ापालचूडामिणचिु ति ः ॥ [२]
लस हीपालिकरीटर रोिच छटारि तपादप ः ।
अ ानज ु
ु ा गणगौरवे
ण गणे रो मि मिण काि ॥ [३]

संशोषय िनशमौविनभ ताप ैग डावनीपिरबृढं सरतानिस मु [् ।]
धमावल नकरः क णा चेता य ीरभिु मतल
ु ामतल
ु ं शाि ॥ [४]
ीमान ेष महामह कमहाराजािधराजो महासाम ािधपितिवक रयशः प ु ज ु मः ।
च े मैिथलनाथभूिमपितिभः स ा रा ि ितं ौढान ेकवश दैक दयो दो स ािवतः ॥ [५]
सि िव िनकराहरण वीणाः िश ा इवेह िवलसि ु यदीयाः ।
खौअलवंशितलकं भवशमासं ं ािविनिजतमरु ािरपदं िनय ु ॥ [६]

वेद िृ तपराणािद ा लोकिहत ैिषणा ।

कृ तं सगितसोपानं ीगणे रमि णा ॥ [७]19

Devāditya, who was the head of the ministers of the king of Mithila, had scattered the
darkness of the enemies through the light of his own wisdom. When he, unweary like
a stone, arose to please those of good heart, the lotuses that are the Brahmin lineages
blossomed all around. (1)
From Devāditya, the king of ministers named Vīreśvara was born. He purified the
world by the performance of mahādānā-s, the creation of ponds, performance of yaga-
s, and the building of temples. The crest-jewels of many kings kissed his feet. (2)
His younger brother, Gaṇeśvara, shines through his own qualities and is a jewel among
the ministers. His lotus feet are also illuminated by the gems in the crowns of kings.
With his prowess Gaṇeśvara overpowers the lords of Gauda and he is like the fire of
Aurva,20 that causes the sea of the Sultans (suratāna) of Gauḍa to become parched.
Follower of the path of dharma and whose mind is bathed in compassion, he presides
unmatched over the matchless Tirabhukti. (4)
This mahāmahattaka, mahārājādhirāja, mahāsāmāntādhipati is the tree of life upon
which the flower of fame blossoms. He caused the seven-fold kingdom to be preserved
by the Maithila king and was worshipped by their strong shoulders and remained in the
hearts of people. (5)
He qualities are like disciples capable of bring friends and wealth. After having ap-
pointed Bhavaśarmā, the pride of the Khauāla lineage, who defeated Murāri through
his intellect. (6)
Quoted in Jayaswal and Sastri, Catalogue of Manuscripts in Mithila, no. 429 Sugatisopānam, p. 505–506.
The anger of the r̥ṣi Aurva against his enemies was so strong that it generated a flame that threatened
to destroy the world, so it was cast into the ocean and resides there as a ‘submarine fire’ (Monier-Williams,
Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 239).

After having consulted the Vedas, smr̥ti-s, purāṇa-s, and other sources, the esteemed
minister Gaṇeśvara produced the Sugatisopāna for the benefit of all. (7)

Gaṇeśvara’s introduction is certainly highly eulogistic, but there are elements in the descrip-

tions of his father Devāditya and his brother Vireśvara that allude to the actual authority they

may have possessed. The pañjī states that Devāditya was a sāndhivigrahika and the above

states that he had himself engaged in conflict against the enemies of the king of Mithila.

Moreover, through his efforts, the Brahmin lineages of the kingdom flourished. Vireśvara

was a raṇāgārika and developed the kingdom through the building of temples and ponds,

and he performed great acts of giving, presumably to Brahmins. The author Gaṇeśvara him-

self is described in the pañjī as a mahāsāmantādhipati and a mahāmahattaka. While the

descriptions of these Brahmins may be laudatory, the positions are confirmed by the pañjī

records and by additional authors. Gaṇeśvara’s son Ramadatta was a scholar of the tradi-

tions of the Yajurveda and compiled a treatise on the marriage customs of the Vājasaneyi

śākhā, titled Vājasaneyivivāhapaddhati. In it Ramadatta writes:

सि िव हम ी देवािद तनू वः । भूिमपालिशरोर रि ताि सरो हः ॥ [१]

सि िव िहकः ीम ीरे रसहोदरः । महामह कः ीमान ि् वराजित गणे रः ॥ [२]
ीमता रामद ने मि णा त सूनना ् [३]21
ु । प ितः ि यते र ा ध ा वाजसन ेियनाम ॥

From the sāndhivigrahika and lord of ministers, Devāditya, whose lotus feet were
touched by the jewels of the crowns of king, (1) arose the sāndhivigrahika Vīreśvara.
Of the same womb was born the shining mahāmattaka Gaṇeśvara. (2) The conventions
of the Vājasaneyi school have been compiled by his son, the minister Ramadatta (3).22

Quoted in Jayaswal and Sastri, Catalogue of Manuscripts in Mithila, no. 317 ‘Vājasaneyivivāhapaddha-
tiḥ’, p. 355.
The second verse is interesting because in it Ramadatta makes it a point to specify that Vīreśvara and
Gaṇeśvara are uterine brothers (sahodara). The excerpt of the Visaphī mūla pañjī given above shows that
Devāditya had six sons from two wives.

The high positions attained by this family may be a consequence of their long-standing re-

lationship with the kings of Mithila. Evidence for this claim is found in the introduction of

the Gaṅgābhaktitaraṅgiṇī by a scholar named Gaṇapati, who is the son of Dhiresvara and

whose “grandfather served Nanyadeva”.23 This passage indicates that the family descended

from Viṣṇuśarmmā, the founder of the Visaphī mūla, had been in hereditary service with

the Karnata dynasty of Tirabhukti since the time of its establishment by Nanyadeva in 1097.

That they continued to obtain hereditary appointments by the successors of Nanyadeva is ev-

ident from the writings of Caṇḍeśvara, whose ideas about sapiṇḍa were discussed in Chapter

1. In the Gr̥hastha-ratnākara, Caṇḍeśvara states that he is a minister of the king of Mithila,24

and also specifies that he serves as the mahāsāndhivigrahika of king Harisimhadeva and that

his father Vīreśvara also held this position.25

Caṇḍeśvara’s writings shows that the Visaphī family had a great hand in administering

the kingdom, but they also show that these Brahmins continued to make contributions to

scholarship. In the introduction of the Vivāda-ratnākara Caṇḍeśvara seeks to convey to

the audience his credentials for writing a treatise on civil law as he refers to himself as the

“jewel among the ministers” (saciva-ratna)26 and well-versed in the subjects of mimamsa

and dharma.27 Then he informs the audience of the following accomplishment

सि ाकुलयोिवशेषमिखलि ायना ोददौ वृि ं य िपतामहाय िमिथलाभूम डलाख डलः ीधीरे रसूनरु हमसाव भा ं मतं

ग भि तरि ण गणपते सती ीतये ॥ Quoted in Jayaswal and Sastri, Catalogue of Manuscripts in Mithila, no. 86
‘Gaṅgābhaktitaraṅgiṇī’, p. 88.
गृह र ाकरेऽि न ् ीच डे रमि णा । िमिथलापृिथवीनाथ सि िव हकािरणा । (Kamalakṛṣṇa Smṛtitīrtha, Gṛhastha-
ratnākara, 3).
इित महामहे महाराजािधराज ीहिरिसंहदेव महासाि िव िहक वीरे रा ज स ि य महासाि िव िहक ीच डे रिवरिचते गृह र-
ाकरे गाह तर (ibid., 6).
च डे रः सिचवर िममं िववादर ाकरं रचयित िु तशा िव ः ॥ (Kamalakṛṣṇa Smṛtitīrtha, Vivāda-ratnākara, 2).
मीमांसानयनो िवचारचतरु ो म ी च डे रः स ीमान प् रम वादिवषयं ् (ibid., 1).
ौित र ाकरम ॥

ीच डे रमि णा मितमताऽन ेन स ा ना नेपालािखलभूिमपालजियना ध धाि ना ।
वा ाः सिरत टे सरध ु
ु नीसा ु ौ माग मािस यथो प ु यसमये द
ं दध ाः शच ु
लापू षः ॥28

The esteemed minister Caṇḍeśvara being pleased after conquering the king of Nepal,
performed the tulā-pūruṣa dāna on the banks of the river Vāṅmatī [Vāgmatī], which
flowed like the Suradhunī (river of the gods).

From the above it is known that Caṇḍeśvara carried out a military expedition in Nepal and

defeated some king there. Afterwards, he performed the tulā-pūruṣa dāna on the banks

of the river Vagmati (modern Bagmati), which courses through the center of Mithila from

north to south until it joins the river Ganges. Caṇḍeśvara considers the performance to be

quite important because he mentions it again in the final section of the Vivāda-ratnākara,

but here he mentions that the event took place towards the end of 1314 or the beginning

of 1315 ëí.29 The tulā-pūruṣa dāna or the “gift equaling the weight of a man” consists of

giving a measure of gold equal to the weight of the donor. In addition to the gifts of gold,

the dāna often consisted of grants of land or villages to Brahmins.30

A small but notable point of interest is to be found in Gaṇeśvara’s introduction to the

Sugatisopāna is the mention of another Brahmin lineages. He wrote that his own “qualities

are like disciples capable of bring friends and wealth” and that he gave an appointment to

“Bhavaśarmā, the pride of the Khauāla lineage”. The nature of the appointment is not spec-

ified, but the reference to Bhavaśarmā suggests that there was some level of cooperation

between the Khauāla and Visaphī lineages. While interactions between Brahmin lineages
Kamalakṛṣṇa Smṛtitīrtha, Vivāda-ratnākara, 1.
Vivāda-ratnākara, ‘Upasaṃhāra’: रसगणभ ु जचु ु । अिदत तिु लतम ु ै-
ःै सि ते शाकवष सहिस धवलप े वा मतीिस तीरे
ु ु
रा ना णरािशं िनिधरिखलगणानाम रः सोमनाथः ॥ (Kamalakṛṣṇa Smṛtitīrtha, Vivāda-ratnākara, 676). The editor
of the text, Kamalakṛṣṇa Smṛtitīrtha, suggests that the event took place “in the bright half of the month of
Pausha in the year 1236 of the Śaka era”, which he equates with either December 1314 or January 1315 ëí
(Ibid., v).
Kane, History of Dharmaśāstra, vol. II, pt. II, 870–872.

are certainly not special and may be expected, within a political environment where access

to kings and courtiers might inspire competition between families, it is particularly notable

that Gaṇeśvara mentions a Brahmin outside of his own family in the introduction of a text,

which is generally reserved for eulogizing oneself and one’s pedigree. To be sure, Gaṇeś-

vara is the only scholar among the other writers belonging to the Visaphī lineage to have

made such mention.

The above sources demonstrate that the Visaphī lineage was tightly connected to the

Karnata court. The descriptions of the various achievements of these individuals in defend-

ing the kingdom, conquering neighboring territories, protecting and nurturing the Brahmin

community, and making donations of gold and land portrays the members of the Visaphī

family as the light of Kshatriya rulers. These Brahmins assumed titles that were used by

Nanyadeva, such as ‘head of a feudatory council’ (mahāsāmantādhipati), but also repre-

sented themselves as the ‘upholder of dharma’ and “lord of the ministers”, whose feet were

kissed and illuminated by the jewels in the crowns of various kings. They rescued the land

from the darkness cast by enemies of the king through the light of their own wisdom. Had

readers been unaware that the authors were Brahmins, they could not be faulted for as-

suming that Gaṇeśvara, Caṇḍeśvara, and their kinsmen might well have been Kshatriyas.

In addition to illustrating that Brahmins had grown quite powerful in Mithila, the literary

evidence shows the importance of the mūla in the organization of Brahmin society. The

ministers of the Visaphī lineages were able to maintain their hereditary ties to the Karnata

court for more than two centuries and with the governments of six kings.

Returning to the question posed at the outset of this section, considering the extent to

which the Visaphī family administered the kingdom, it is possible to conceive that conflict

may have arisen between the king Saktisimhadeva and one of these mahāsāmantādhipati-s,

sāndhivigrahika-s, or mahāmattaka-s. The dispute may have grown to the the point where

the king’s expression of authority was interpreted by these Brahmin ministers as ‘despotic’.

Devāditya, whose seven sons went onto become ministers of the Karnatas, was himself the

sāndhivigrahika of Ramasimhadeva. His son Vīreśvara assumed the same position under

the latter’s successor, Saktisimhadeva.31 As these ministers held political power and social

status, they could have assumed effectual control of the kingdom by placing it in the hands

of a ‘Council of Elders’, which administered the kingdom until Harisimhadeva had attained

an age at which he could be coronated as the next Karnata king.

In addition to the administrative relationships between Brahmins and the king, the pañjī

records show that there was an equally strong connection between scholars and the king-

dom. Another example of the establishing of hereditary lineages in Mithila society and the

growing authority of Brahmins in Mithila is the expansion of the mūla. The previous chap-

ter described the segmentation of the mūla into grāma-s, but there is an additional branching

of the mūla that requires discussion. In some cases the migration of a Brahmin from his

ancestral home to a new village or the minimal lineage associated with a member of a mūla

was considered in high esteem that the segmentation of the mūla resulted in the establishing

of that branch not as a grāma, but as a separate mūla. The branching of one mūla out of

Mishra, History of Maithili Literature, 136.

another is rarely encountered in the pañjī records, but there are at least three such cases. In

this section I briefly explain the creation of the Oini, Khaṇḍavalā, and Sodarapura mūla-s.

The excerpt of the Khauāla mūla pañjī discussed in Chapter 1 showed that the viji purūṣa

Prajāpati had two sons, Vācaspati and Umāpati. That excerpt described the lineage descend-

ing from Prajāpati’s first son Vacāspati and it indicated that Umāpati’s lineage was to be

found on folio 127/5 of the mūla pañjī. That section showing the following information

regarding Umāpati his descendants:

उँमापित सतु िव ापित सतो

ु जयपितः ए सतो
ु िह क ु ओइनाहः ओइिन ामोपयकः । ए सतो
ु ः ए सतो ु
अित पः ए सतो ु गोिव ः ए सतः
ु ल णः ए सताु राज पि डत कामे र रामे र हिर र ि परेु तेवाडी
सलखन गोढीकाः [...]32
The son of Umāpati is Vidyāpati, his son is Jayāpati, his son is Hiṅguka, his son is
Oināha, who is the founder of the village Oini. Oināha’s son it Atirūpa, whose son is
Govinda, whose son is Lakṣmaṇa. The sons of Lakṣmaṇa are the rāja paṇḍita Kāmeś-
vara, Rāmeśvara, Hariśvara, Tripure, Tevāḍi, Salakhana, and Goḍhika [...]

The above indicates that Umāpati’s great-great-grandson Oināha was granted a village,

which was named after him, and that he was recognized as the founder (grāmoparjaka)

of a new branch of the patriline. There is no information about the reasons for the recogni-

tion of Oināha as a new lineage founder or the grant of land given to him. His importance

may be seen in the position acquired by his descendant Kāmeśvara, who was appointed as

the rāja paṇḍita in the Karnata court. Similarly the pañjī shows the following:

[...] िसंहा म सं बीजी महामहोपा ाय हलायधु ए सतो

ु महो दिध । ए सतो
ु महो जाइकः ए सतो
ु महो

मिहधर ए सतओ गा क ु वागी र ए सतौ
ु ः ए सतो ु र े र रामे रौ लगरदहु ु
सं िवसव दौ । र े र सता
महामहोपा य ह े र महामहोपा य (०५/०४) सरेु र (०५/०४) जीवे राः [...] सोदरपरु ामोपयकाः
॥ [...]33
Mūla Pañjī written by Pañjīkara Paṇḍita Modanānda Jhā, folio 127/2–128/1.
Ibid., folio 17/01.

The founder of the Siṃhāśrama mūla is mahāmahopādhyāya Halāyudha, whose son
is mahopādhyāya Dadhi. The son of Dadhi is mahopādhyāya Jāika, whose son is ma-
hopādhyāya Mahidhara, whose son is Gāṅguka. The son of Gāṅguka is Vāgīśvara,
whose own two sons are Ratneśvara and Rāmeśvara. Ratneśvara married the daugh-
ter of Visava of Laguradaha mūla and his sons are mahāmahopādhyāya Halleśvara,
mahāmahopādhyāya Sureśvara, and mahāmahopādhyāya Jīveśvara. The three are the
founders of the village Sodarapura. [...]

The above excerpt shows that the three sons of Halāyudha’s descendant Ratneśvara were

recognized in Mithila as prominent scholars. The title of mahāmahopādhyāya bestowed

upon the brothers Halleśvara, Sureśvara, and Jīveśvara are evidence of their achievements,

so also is that they were either granted the village of Sodarapura or land within the village

as gifts. The prominence of these scholars within Maithil society led to the establishing of

the Siṃhāśrama (known colloquially as ‘Simāsama’) branch at Sodarapura as its own mūla.

The third case is explained below:

ु िवर (०५/०४) नारायन । त नारायण सतः

[...] ग ौली सं बीजी ग ाधरः ए सतौ ु (१७//०२) शल
ु पािण
ु हाले साँईकौ । थिरया सं का
। ए सतौ दौ ॥ ख डवला ामोपायकः ॥ साँईकः संकषण परनाम [...]34

[...] The founder of the Gaṅgaulī mūla is Gaṅgādhara. His two sons are Vīra and
Nārāyaṇa. The son of that Nārāyaṇa is Sulapaṇi. The two sons of Sulapāṇi are Hāle
and Sāī. Sāī married the daughter of Kanha of Thariyā mūla. He is the founder of the
Khaṇḍavalā branch. The given name of Sāī is Saṅkarṣaṇa [...]

Saṅkarṣaṇa, the descendant of the Gaṅgaulī viji purūṣa Gaṅgādhara, was a rāja paṇḍita

of the king of Bastar,35 which is presently located in the central Indian state of Chhatis-

garh. He was given the village of Khandava as a grant from the king and he resided there

with his family for sometime before returning to Mithila. As shown in the above excerpt,

Saṅkarṣaṇa’s bride belonged to the Thariyā mūla, so it is evident that Saṅkarṣaṇa maintained
Mūla Pañjī written by Pañjīkara Paṇḍita Modanānda Jhā, folio 17/01.
Singh, History of Tirhut, 212.

contact with Mithila although he served a king outside of the region. The establishing of

a branch of the Gaṅgaulī lineage upon a village located beyond the borders of the Karnata

kingdom is significant. It indicates that Saṅkarṣaṇa and his family commanded a high de-

gree of social status within Maithil society, such that the king and his pañjīkara-s may have

agreed to the creation of a mūla outside of Mithila. However, the fact that the new mūla was

named ‘Khaṇḍavalā’ after the village Khaṇḍava where Saṅkarṣaṇa resided further shows

the importance of territorial anchoring of Brahmin lineages in the ideology of recognizing

a Brahmin among the Maithils.

The recognition of the Oini, Sodarapura, and Khaṇḍavalā sub-lineages as being mūla-s

on par with the parent mūla is more symbolic than practical. As they are truly grāma-s

of the respective mūla-s, they have the same gotra-s as the parent mūla-s (see the excerpt

from the gotra pañjī for the Śāṇḍilya and Kāśyapa gotra-s shown in Chapter 2). The sago-

tra status of the Khauala and Oini mūla-s would prevent inter-marriage between the two

lineages. The explanation, then, for the establishing of grāma-s as mūla-s was to preserve

the prestige attained by these families. The establishing of such sub-lineages as mūla-s also

has an impact upon the identities of individuals associated with the new lineages. The an-

cestors of the Oini or Sodarapura mūla-s are members of the parent patrilines Khauāla and

Siṃhāśrama, but the social identities of members of the new mūla-s whose ancestries were

truncated and tied to new viji purūṣa-s.

3.2 Recognizing the Status of a Brahmin

The preservation of titles acquired by individuals and the elevation of minimal lineages

to the status of independent maximal lineages in the pañjī may be explained as a means

of transmitting hereditary and achieved attrbutes across generations to future kings. Just

as Manu states that copper-plate grants should bear the ancestries of the donor king for the

knowledge of future kings, so also may the pañjī records serve to inform future rulers of the

positions that particular Brahmins and their families held during dynasties of the past. The

recording of such professional attributes may appear to force the practice of genealogical

record-keeping well outside of the original scope of ensuring proper marriages. However, a

closer inspection of the matter suggests that the retention of information on an individual’s

status may have actually have fallen in line with the attempt made by the formulators of

pañjī prabandha to regulate Brahmin marriage in accordance with the specifications in the

smr̥ti. Recall that in his discussion in the Tantravārttika regarding the means for perceiving

the ‘caste of the progenitor’, Kumārila Bhaṭṭa offered the following:

िविश ने िह य ने महाकुलीनाः पिरर ा ानेन ैव हेतनु ा राजिभ ा ण ै िपतृिपतामहािद पार-

यािव रणाथ समूहले ु
ािन वि तािन। तथा च ितकुलं गणदोष रणा दन ु पाः वृि िनवृ यो
य ।े 36

[I]t is for the sake of making their respective caste duly and authoritatively recognised,
that the Brahmanas and the Kings have introduced the system of writing up and pre-
serving their genealogies trees, which serve to preserve and perpetuate the names of
their forefathers. And as these records distinctly point out the particular excellences
and defects of each family, it is always in accordance with these that, we find people
being attached to, or repulsed from, particular families.37

Sâstrî, Tantravârtika, 7.
Jhā, Tantravārttika, 9.

Of significance to the present discussion is the phrase “[on account of] point[ing] out the par-

ticular excellences and defects of each family” (pratikulaṃ guṇa-doṣa-smaraṇāt). Kumārila

does not specify exactly what is meant by positive ‘qualities’ (guṇa) and ‘blemishes’ (doṣa)

of each family. He may have been referring to the social status of individual families, the

quality of a particular lineage, and the marital histories of a family and their attention to mar-

riages made according to the rules prescribed by the smr̥ti. His implication is that ‘good’

families will have a record of their genealogies that can be analyzed in order to verify that the

history of the family contains marriages conducted properly. For it is towards such families

that people are inclined (pravr̥tti) to turn when seeking suitable marriages for their children.

Conversely, people have a tendency to turn away (nivr̥tti) from families that are known to

have negative qualities. In the first chapter, I explained the manner in which the pañjī in-

stitution ensured abidance by Yājñavalkya’s rules regarding gotra, pravara, and sapiṇḍa

exogamy, as well as varṇa endogamy. However, those specifications are with regard to

individual brides and grooms. Kumārila’s discussion of the ‘qualities’ and ‘blemishes’,

however, relate not to the individual, but to the kula or family to which that individual be-

longs. The question naturally arises: by what standard can a groom measure the positive

and negative qualities of a prospective bride’s family?

In addition to the list of qualities that a bride should possess, the Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti

states that she “should be from a family of Srotriyas, whose ten ancestors are renowned,

but not from a family that possesses hereditary diseases or deficiencies, even if they are

prosperous.”38 In the Mitākṣarā, Vijñāneśvara offers details that clarify the meaning of this

verse. He states that a bride should be taken “from a family whose ten persons, meaning

five on the mother’s side and five on the father’s side, are renowned”.39 In order to make the

marriage one of equals, Yājñavalkya further specifies that the groom should also “possess

good qualities, be of the same varṇa, be himself a Srotriya, whose virility has been tested,

and who is youthful, intelligent, and well-liked.”40 The stipulation that the groom and bride

be of the same varṇa is redundant, but likely added for emphasis considering that both

much be of the same varṇa if they are to be a Shrotriya and from a family of Shrotriyas,


Based upon the above descriptions of a ‘good’ family by Yājñavalkya and Vijñāneś-

vara, it is possible to interpret Kumārila within the context that these ‘good’ families are

‘attracted’ towards prospective brides and grooms who are the offspring of a Shrotriya fa-

ther, born into a family of Shrotriyas, whose affines are also Shrotriyas, and which possesses

both material as well as spiritual wealth. The qualities of material wealth are certainly easy

to measure, but it is more difficult to grasp the intangible status and spiritual wealth of a

Brahmin who is recognized as a Shrotriya. A ‘Shrotriya’ is a Brahmin who has been taught

the Vedas and understands the meaning of the teachings.42 A Brahmin who is “conversant

Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.54: दशपू षिव ाता ोि याणां महाकुलात ् । ीदातिप न संचािररोगदोषसमि तात ् ॥ (Panśīkar,
Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 15).
Mitākṣarā: पू षाः दशिभः प ु ष ैमातृतः प िभः िपतृतः प िभिव ातं य ु लं त ात ।् (ibid.).
Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.55: एत ैरेव गण ् नि यः ॥ (ibid., 16). In
ु ैय ु ः सवणः ोि यो वरः । य ा रीि तः प ं ु े यवु ा धीमान ज
his commentary on this verse, Vijñāneśvara states that “a great family is one that is affluent and has sons and
grandsons, animals, servants, villages, etc.”41 Moreover, he adds that the groom should be “of the same or
higher varṇa, but not lower” than the bride (Mitākṣarā: सवण उ ृ ो वा न हीनवणः । (ibid., 16)).
Mitākṣarā: ोि याणामधीतवेदानाम ।् अ यनमपु ल णं तु ा यनसंप ानाम ।् (ibid., 15).

with the sacred knowledge”43 and able to understand the philosophical and ritual aspects

of Vedic traditions is a ‘Shrotriya’. The term itself signifies a Brahmin who has mastered

the śruti, the eternal knowledge that was “heard” by his r̥ṣi ancestors,44 which is distin-

guished from teachings known as smr̥ti, or knowledge that is “remembered”. On account

of his spiritual bearing the Shrotriya earns special privileges. Yājñavalkya states that a king

should actively settle Shrotriyas in his kingdom by giving them grants, titles, and hospital-

ity.45 The king should also provide a Shrotriya with a proper residence in which to live.46

Manu states that “a king must not levy taxes upon a Shrotriya and no Shrotriya residing

in a kingdom should perish from hunger”.47 The caution is that the “kingdom in which a

Shrotriya pines with hunger will certainly be afflicted by famine” in return.48 On the other

hand, “whatever meritorious acts [a Srotriya] performs under the full protection of the king,

thereby increases the king’s length of life, wealth, and kingdom”.49 Based upon the above,

a Brahmin who is a Shrotriya is important not only for maintaining the ‘positive qualities’

of a family or lineage for purposes of marriage, but also for legitimizing the sanctity of a

king and the prosperity of the kingdom.

As a Shrotriya is defined as a Brahmin who understands the Veda and is entitled to

exemplary treatment by a king, one might imagine that non-Shrotriya Brahmins may have

Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 1103.
Ibid., 1101.
Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.333: Translation adapted from Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 414.
Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.333:
Manu Smr̥ti 7.133: ि यमाणो ऽ ाददीत न राजा ोि या रम ।् न च धु ा संसीदे ोि यो िवषये वसन (् Jolly, Mânava
Dharma-Śâstra, 139). Translation adapted from Bühler, The Laws of Manu, 237.
Manu Smr̥ti 7.134: य रा ु िवषये ोि यः सीदित धु ा । त ािप त ुधा रा मिचरेण ैव सीदित ॥ (Jolly, Mânava
Dharma-Śâstra, 139). Translation adapted from Bühler, The Laws of Manu, 237.
Manu Smr̥ti 7.136: संर माणो रा ा यं कु ते धमम हम ।् तेनायवु धते रा ो िवणं रा मेव च ॥ (Jolly, Mânava Dharma-
Śâstra, 140). Translation adapted from Bühler, The Laws of Manu, 237.

attempted to capitalize upon the benefits that accrue from such status. Kumārila held that

a Brahmin is to be known on account of his birth, but Patañjali defined a Brahmin as being

a ‘Brahmin’ not only “by virtue of his birth”, but especially “by his knowledge of scripture

and his ascetic qualities”.50 These descriptions suggest that the Shrotriya status of a Brah-

min is a ‘sociocentric’ aspect of his identity, that the Brahmin community, the king, and the

general public be aware that a Shrotriya is dwelling among them.

But, how does a king or anyone else recognize that a Brahmin claiming Shrotriya sta-

tus is not only a ‘Brahmin’, but a ‘Shrotriya’ as well? Moreover, by what means is such

a title conferred upon a Brahmin? Manu states that “having ascertained his learning in the

Veda and the purity of his conduct, the king shall provide for [the Srotriya] means of sub-

sistence in accordance with the sacred law, and shall protect him in every way, as a father

protects the lawful son of his body.”51 Manu, however, does not describe the means for

‘ascertaining’ a Brahmin’s knowledge of the Veda or the purity of his conduct. Just as king

Harisimhadeva is credited with laying the foundations of the pañjī system, he is also cred-

ited with measuring the knowledge and conduct of the Brahmins of his kingdom. Another

legend regarding the origins of pañjī prabandha that has long circulated within the Maithil

Brahmin community describes how Harisimhadeva ‘ascertained’ the status of Brahmins.

A king had called for a great assembly of the Brahmins in his realm. On the day of

the event several Brahmins, who were flattered to have been invited to dine with the king,

Vyākaraṇa Mahābhāṣya 2.2.6: तपः तु ं च योिन े ते ा णकारकम ।् (Kielhorn, Vyâkaraṇa Mahâbhâshya, vol.
1, 411).
Manu Smr̥ti 7.135: तु वृ े िविद ा वृि ं ध ा क येत ् । संर ते ् सवत ैनं िपता प ु िमवौरसम ् ॥ (Jolly, Mânava
Dharma-Śâstra, 139). Translation adapted from Bühler, The Laws of Manu, 237.

performed their morning ablutions and quickly departed for the palace. Other Brahmins ar-

rived in the afternoon after having bathed and performed their basic daily rites, skipping the

longer rituals just for the day so as to not delay their audience with the king. The remaining

Brahmins arrived late in the evening after they had completed not only their basic religious

duties, but also the agnihotra ritual. When these thirteen Brahmins finally arrived, the feast

had nearly run its course. The others chastised them for their delay and their disregard for

the king. When the king asked about the reasons for their delay, they told him of their re-

sponsibilities, of the importance of the agnihotra, and offered their apologies. The king then

announced to the audience that he had held the feast because he wanted to learn who were

the best Brahmins in his kingdom. He had intended to open debates with them in order to

test their knowledge. Now, it was clear who of these were the most illustrious. Proclaiming

the last to arrive as the best Brahmins, the king divided the Brahmins of his kingdom into

three groups: a Brahmin who arrived first was a common Brahmin, a jayavara, one who

arrived second was ‘deserving of respect’, a yogya; and one who had completed all of his

required duties before arriving was a śrotriya.52

Unlike the legend of Harinatha Upadhyaya, there is nothing in the content of the legend

of the king’s assembly that connects its events with the implementation of pañjī prabandha.

The legend explains the classification of Brahmins into hierarchical grades of Shrotriyas,

Yogyas, and Jayavaras, but it does not provide insights into the rationale behind the classi-

fication or its effects upon the community.

Adapted from Rameshwar Singh, “Maithil Marriage”; Thakur, History of Mithila; Jha, Genealogies and
Genealogists of Mithila.

The three groups of Brahmins mentioned in the legend comprise the three basic hierar-

chies of the community and the names of the groups have remained the same. As indicated

the assignment of a Brahmin into one of the three groups was based upon his conduct.

Conduct itself was measured by the order in which a Brahmin arrived at the assembly. The

result of the king’s test publicly confirmed which Brahmins in the kingdom were Shrotriyas.

The second group was categorized as Yogya by their potential for better conduct. The last

group were categorized as Jayavars, Brahmins who were ‘Brahmin’ solely on account of

their birth, but of lower status than the Shrotriya and Yogya because of lack of erudition

and purity in conduct.

The legend suggests that the positive (guna) and negative (dosa) qualities of Brahmins

was established by a king. The rank system may have developed in order to adhere to

prescriptions in the smrti regarding the qualities of the bride and groom. Yet, there is no

stipulation for measuring a family. The gotra cannot be assessed in terms of guna and dosa

because of the simply numerical magnitude and geographic distribution of its members.

However, as a segment of the gotra specific to Mithila, the mūla offers a means for assessing

the qualities of a lineage.

By registering Brahmins and their ancestries the pañjī prabandha offered a means for

recognizing a Brahmin as a ‘Brahmin’. The introduction of status grades represents a de-

velopment of the identification system. Now that Maithils knew that they were Brahmins,

they could also answer the question of who among them were the most illustrious Brahmins.

As a result of this development, a Brahmin now belonged not only to a territorial lineage

(mūla), but also to one of the Shrotriya, Yogya, Panjibaddha, Vansaja, or Jayavara grades.

This system makes it easy to follow Yājñavalkya’s recommendation that a bride “should be

from a family of Srotriyas, whose ten ancestors are renowned”.

The pañjī records have meticulously preserved the names of thousands of Brahmins, the

patterns of their migrations, and the titles and posts they held. Considering the importance

of the ranked grades in the identities and social practices of the Maithils, is it surprising

that pañjī records do not provide sufficient detail about the grades and their original intent.

But, the mūla pañjī contains the following verse that contains a list of thirteen Brahmins

recognized as Shrotriyas:

ग ौलीि ज वीर कोऽिप लयी ग धरः पि डतः

साञी ख डवला ितसौत नगरे िव रो अभूत प् रा

खौवालोऽिप जापित क हा श वंिशधरो
दाि िसि जन कुजौली नगरे बभिनया शमा िशवः
नरिसंह मा डरो महामहो शा सं िवदो

घसौत वासदेु वकौ मिहधरौ नरौन के
हिरअ झा िदि तो महामहो िवशारदः
िसंहा मो हलायधु ो महामहो योदशः53
The pandita Gangadhara of Gangauli and pandita Gangadhara of Alayi;
Sai of Khandavala, Visvambhara of the ancient city of Tisauta;
Prajapati of Khauvala, the master of sastra Vamsidhara of Karmaha;
the sage Danti of the city of Kujauli, Siva of Bhabhaniyam
the mahamahopadhyaya and master of sastra Narasimha of Mandara;
Vasudeva of Ghusauta, Mahidhara of Narauna;
the mahamahopadhyaya and diksita Visarada of Hariambha;
rhe mahamahopadhyaya Halayudha from Simasrama;
these are the thirteen.

The verse provides the names of the thirteen individuals and the villages to which they be-

longed. These thirteen individuals are significant because they are also the viji purūṣa of
find citation

the mūla named after these villages; for example from the pañjī excerpts discussed in this

and previous chapters, Prajapati is the founder of the Khauala mūla, Sai of the Khandavala

mūla, and Halayudha of Simasrama. This raises several questions. Are these the thirteen

Brahmins who were originally designated as Shrotriya? Or is it the lineage of these indi-

viduals that are Shrotriya? There is no explanation in the mūla pañjī regarding this matter.

It is possible that the apical ancestors were recognized as Shrotriya and it is just as likely

that thirteen Brahmins were giving this distinction and it was applied to their entire lineage.

This is significant because it shows that it was not the individual Brahmin who was mea-

sured into the three grades, but the lineage. It establishes the notion that Shrotriya status

was applied to all members of a lineage back to the apical ancestor.

The verse suggests that the status was given to the individual Brahmin. Recall the ex-

cerpt of the Khauala mūla pañjī from Chapter 1. It shows affinal mūla-s starting with Pra-

japati’s grandson, Gaṇapati, whose father-in-law belongs to the Dhanauja mūla. The father-

in-law of Gaṇapati’s son Gadādhara’s is of the Marāṛa mūla. Gadādhara’s son Haripāṇi’s

father-in-law is of Mahuā mūla. Haripāṇi’s son Ratnapāṇi’s father-in-law is of Jajivāla

mūla. None of these mūla-s are Shrotriya.

There is a sense that Shrotriya status was historically prescriptive. Another verse states:

खऋऔर खौवाल बधवाल थ ैव च
मा डर दिरहर ैव सोदरपरु था
अय ा ोि संय ु ा ा णा वेद पारगाः
योदशे ते िव ाता वारा ािप क ते
ग ौलो च कुजौली च पबौली ालिय तथा
बहेराढी स राढी पाली ा ोि या
दीघ ष बेलौ ः पिनचोभे एकहरौ तथा

विलयासौ जिजवाल ट वाल पा डवाः
अ ावैत े समा ाता म मा पि को वा
एतेषां वंस िवजी वै प ां सव िनवेिशता54

Kharaura (Khandavala), Khauvala, Budhavala

Mandara, Darihara, Sodarapura
Ayanta Shrotriya are Brahmins who are masters of the Veda
Thirteen are said to be varanta.
Ganguli, Kujauli, Pabauli, Alayi
Baheradhi, Sankaradhi, Pali are Prajyaanta Shrotriya
Dirghosa, Belaunca, Panicobha, Ekahara
Valiyasa, Jajivala, Tankavala, Pandu
These are are madhyama
These lineages and their founders were entered into the pañjī

This verse shows a different list of mūla-s. It also shows a ranking of lineages into varanta,

ayanta, and madhyama categories.

घसौतौ ग ौली हिरअ खौआलौ दिरहरा
ितसौतौ वै पाली सिरसब िसंहासौ कमहा
भभिनयाम श ा ि जवर पटु ा डर परेु
बलेवाडौ नून ं कुलपित मते िवजी प ु षा
बभिनयाम िबन के िचत स ् राढी परैु सहः
योदशे ते िव ाता प ां वै िवजी प ु षा
िसंहा मं िवन के िचत क ् ु जौली सिहतं परा

योदशे ते िव ाता िवस”वच ् े वि ता
जिजवाल वाल पिनचोभ िवलो ककः

पा डुरः सरगन ैव सतलखा म एव च
बिलयासौ िवसिफ च ैव जलैवार थ ैव च
मा डर तथा िव च े वै बीजी प ु षा55

Ghusauta, Gangauli, Hariamba, Khauala, Darihara

Tisauta, Pali, Sarisaba, Simhasama, Karmaha
Bhabhaniyam sarma twice-borns Mandara complete
... viji purūṣa
Bhabhaniam then Sankaradhi ...

find citation
find citation

The thirteen were given in the panji
Simhasama then Kujauli
Thirteen at the visvacakra Jajivala, Tankavala, Panichob, Vilocha
Pandura, Suragana, Satalakha
Baliyasa, Visaphi, Jalaivara
Mandara, these were at the visvacakra

These different mūla-s given in the above verses show that the status of lineages was vari-

able. Moreover, the verses suggest that such changes occured more than once. It also

suggests that the recognition of the thirteen individual Brahmins may have occurred before

pañjī prabandha. The mention of names of individual Brahmins in the original list and the

mere listing of lineages suggests that the status of a Brahmin had shifted from individual

rankings to that of entire lineages. Table 3.2 shows the mūla-s ranked as Shrotriya and

Yogya in the 20th century.

Various Maithil scholars have tried to establish a correlation between the numbers of

Shrotriyas and Yogya identified at the king’s assembly with the numbers of highly-ranked

mūla-s in the pañjī.56

3.3 Status and Marriage

The purpose of the pañjī prabandha was to ensure that Brahmins married Brahmins in

order to ensure that their offspring would also be Brahmins. As mentioned in Chapter

1, this mandatory isogamy essentially nullified the provisions given by Yājñavalkya and

Manu regarding marriage between persons belonging to different varṇa. It also nullified the

existence of intermediate jāti-s to which offspring of mixed-varṇa marriages were assigned

Jha, Genealogies and Genealogists of Mithila, 43–44; Mishra, Shrotriyas of Mithila, 15.

by the smr̥ti authorities. To be ‘Maithil’ was to be registered in the genealogies and to abide

by marriage laws so that one’s offspring would also be ‘Maithil’. The pañjī prabandha

may have abolished the ability of Maithil Brahmins to take wives of other castes, but it

established a means for meeting the criteria established by Yājñavalkya that a groom, who

is himself a Shrotriya, should choose a bride whose ten renowned ancestors are Shrotriyas.

In doing so, however, the pañjī system incorporated within the Maithil Brahmin caste the

jāti system that applied in the smr̥ti to designations between varṇa-s.

Following the principle that a Shrotriya groom should seek out a Shrotriya bride, the ad-

ministrators of pañjī prabandha established similar principles of isogamy such that Yogyas

were to marry Yogya and Jayavaras were to marry Jayavaras. The logic behind this intent

seems simple enough: if parents are of equal grade, then the offspring acquires the same

grade rank. But what happens when a Shrotriya groom cannot find a Shrotriya bride? This

is a question that is less theoretical than it is practical. Isogamy was difficult to maintain for

the simple fact that membership in the Shrotriya grade was limited to only thirteen Brah-

mins. The limited number of Shrotriyas required that grooms of these families had to find

brides that were outside of their mūla, gotra, and pravara, outside of sapiṇḍa boundaries,

but within the grade. Let us see what the scenario was like. The thirteen Shrotriya lineages

belonged to five gotra-s, shown in table 3.1 below.

Of these mūla-s, Kujauli and Narauna had the greatest ease in marrying within the grade

they are the only Shrotriya members of their gotra-s. Grooms of these two mūla-s could con-

ceivably marry brides from twelve mūla-s. The six mūla-s belonging to the Vatsa gotra had

gotra mūla
Śāṇḍilya Gaṅgaulī, Siṃhāśrama, Khaṇḍavalā
Vatsa Ghusauta, Karmaha, Alayī, Tisauta, Hariamba, Bhabhaniyam
Kāśyapa Khauvala, Maṇḍara
Kātyāyana Kujauli
Parāśara Narauna

Table 3.1: Thirteen original Shrotriya mūla-s.

the greatest restrictions. The mūla-s of the Vatsa gotra had to immediately avoid marriage

with five mūla-s, which left them with eight mūla-s from which to seek brides. Yet, over

time, the sapiṇḍa restrictions would further limit the number of mūla-s from which potential

brides could be taken. In order to examine the difficulties of maintaining isogamy among

the Shrotriya lineages, I provide a hypothetical case based upon that Brahmin of the Khauala

mūla named Dharaditya, who was the individual specified at the end of the excerpt of the

Khauala mūla pañjī described in Chapter 1. That excerpt showed that Dharāditya married

the daughter of Vaṃśadhara, who belonged to the Gaṅgaulī mūla. Dharāditya’s son could

not take a bride from the Khauala mūla or from his mother’s Gaṅgaulī mūla. Moreover,

based upon sagotra restrictions, his son would have to choose a bride from a mūla that

did not belong to his agnatic Kāśyapa gotra or his maternal grandfather’s Śāṇḍilya gotra.

The sagotra restriction eliminates five mūla-s, leaving Dharāditya’s son to choose an eligi-

ble bride from seven remaining mūla-s. Based upon these limitations, let us presume that

Dharāditya’s son married a bride from the Ghusauta mūla of the Vatsa gotra. The son of this

marriage would have an even more limited numbered of brides to choose from. This son

is prohibited from marrying Khauvala brides because of samula, Maṇḍara brides because

of agnatic sagotra, Ghusauta, Karmaha, Alayī, Tisauta, Hariamba, Bhabhaniyam brides on

account of maternal sagotra. The elimination of eight leaves five mūla-s. Once the list of

sixteen ancestors is drawn up in the uteṛha pañjī, sapiṇḍa restrictions may further reduce

these five mūla-s. Given these limitations it is natural that the number of eligible marriage

partners within the grade would diminish after a number of generations.

The diminishing number of eligible Shrotriyas for marriage presented a crisis. If a

Shrotriya married a Shrotriya, then the offspring would be Shrotriya, but if either the groom

or bride married outside of the grade, then the offspring would no longer be a Shrotriya.

Preservation of the status of the lineage was one thing. The greater issue was that marriage

of Shrotriyas outside of the grade could result in excommunication of the offending families

from the Shrotriya community.57 Therefore, in order to accommodate the crisis presented

by endogamy in the Maithil marriage system, Shrotriyas were permitted to marry Yogyas

with the permission of the king.58 However, as the parents are of unequal grade rank, he

offspring acquires an intermediary rank. As marriages outside of the endogamous grades

increased, the rank system was reorganized in order to classify the offspring of mixed-

grade marriages.59 The offspring of a Shrotriya or Yogya bride and a Jayavara groom was

placed into a new category called panjibaddha, which was placed between the Yogyas and

Jayavaras.60 The offspring of a Shrotriya or Yogya groom and a Jayavara bride were placed

into a category called vansaja or bansaja, which ranked below the pañjībaddha.61

Saraswati, “Institution of Pañjī,” 270; Brown, “Substance and Structure,” 200.
Saraswati, “Institution of Pañjī,” 271.
Saraswati, “A Note on Marriage Custom in Maithil Brahmans of Bihar,” 120.
Sinha, “Pañjī System,” 84.

The creation of categories for classifying offspring of mixed-grade marriages resembles

the jāti categories described in the smr̥ti-s. Recall that while the smr̥ti-s advocated marriage

within the varṇa, the texts also accepted the fact that mixed marriages were a reality at the

time the texts were composed or at some point in the past. The authorities developed cate-

gories known as jāti-s into which the offspring of such unions would be placed. The texts

identified two types of offspring depending upon the status of the parents. The marriage

of a bride to a groom of a higher varṇa was known as anuloma (hypergamous). The mar-

riage of a bride to a groom of a lower varṇa was known as pratiloma (hypogamous).62

The Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti specifies the following for offspring born of Brahmin parents with

persons of mixed varṇa. Of the anuloma-s: “By a Brâhmaṇa in a Kṣatriya woman is pro-

duced merely a Mûrdhâvasikta; in a Vaiśya woman, an Ambaṣṭha; and in a Śûdra woman. a

Niṣâda or a Pârasava even.”63 Of the pratiloma-s: “The son begot by a Kṣatriya and a Brâh-

maṇî woman is called a Sûta, by a Vaiśya is called a Vaidehika, and by a Śûdra a Châṇḍâla

– outcaste from all religions (dharma).”64 The grade system replicated the varṇa structure

within the Maithil Brahmin community, with the Shrotriya considered the true ‘Brahmin’

and the Jayavara as representing the ‘Vaishya’, or commoner.

Trautmann once described anuloma as ‘with the grain’ and pratiloma ‘against the grain’, as ‘one would
pet a cat’.
Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.91: िव ा धू ाविस ो िह ि यायां िवशः ि याम ् । अ ः शू ां िनषादो जातः पारशवोऽिप वा ॥
(Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 28). Translation from Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 189.
Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.93: ा यां ि या तू ो वै या दै हे क था । शू ा ात ु च डालः सवधमबिह ृ तः ॥ (Panśīkar,
Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 29). Translation from Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 192.

3.4 Status and Personhood

The rank system expanded the means for recognizing a Brahmin. With the emergence of

ranked grades, it was no longer sufficient simply to identity someone as being ‘Brahmin,

but it was necessary for understand the measure of their ‘Brahminhood’. As discussed in the

first chapter, the pañjī system mandated that sixteen ancestors of a bride and groom must

be examined in order to determine any pre-existing relatedness within the prohibits degrees

of consanguinity. This information was recorded in the uteṛha pañjī, which enumerates

the thirty-two lineages from which a Brahmin is descended. The uteṛha pañjī not only

makes it possible to identify pre-existing relationships that would invalidate a potential

match between bride and groom, but is also enables the pañjīkara to specifically identity the

status of any Brahmin individual through an examination of the status of each of the thirty-

two ancestors. The uteṛha pañjī provides the genealogist with the means of verifying if a

potential bride meets Yājñavalkya’s recommendation that she have ten illustrious Shrotriya

ancestors. The uteṛha pañjī of a pure Shrotriya would show that all sixteen ancestors are

also Shrotriya. The same record would also show if any ancestors are of lower grades.

The second manner in which the rank system internalized caste dynamics was by incor-

porating the principles of the rise and fall of jāti-s. The Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti states that “the

rise of caste is known over the seventh or fifth generations, respectively”.65 This principle

was intended to raise the jāti status of an individual born from a mixed-varṇa marriage. The

number of generations required for the caste of a descendant to rise is dependent upon the

Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti 1.96: जा कष
यगु े ये ः स मे प मेऽिप व । ये कमणां सा ं पूवव ाधरो रम ् ॥ (Panśīkar,
Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 30).

jāti designation of the offspring. In the Mitākṣarā, Vijñāneśvara explains how this process

works. For offspring with a Shudra, it takes seven generations. He gives the following

example. A daughter born from a Brahmin father and a Shudra mother is a Nisadi. She

marries a Brahmin and gives birth to a daughter. This daughter is married to a Brahmin

and she gives birth to a daughter, and so on, until the child from the six generation. This

daughter marries a Brahmin and from them will be born a Brahmin.66 For a child born from

a Vaishya, it takes six generations: A daughter born from a Brahmin father and a Vaishya

mother is an Ambasthi. She marries a Brahmin and gives birth to a daughter. Each daughter

marries a Brahmin until the fifth generation, when the daughter of that union gives birth to

a Brahmin.67 Finally, for the offspring born of a Kshatriya, it takes five generations: The

daughter born of a Brahmin father and a Kshatriya woman is a Murdhavasikta. She marries

a Brahmin, and her daughter marries a Brahmin, until the fourth generation. The offspring

between that daughter and a Brahmin will be a Brahmin at the fifth generation.68

The processes of the rise and fall of caste has been interpreted as being an ideal that

was not actually practiced. Govinda Upadhyay described the principle of adjusting varṇa

status over generations as a product of marriage regulations designed to implement “social

control through ‘promise’ and ‘ostracism’.”69 His implication is that the ‘promise’ of rise

over several generations was intended to enforce intra-caste marriage through the idea that
Mitākṣarā: ा णेन शू ायाम ु ािदता िनषादी सा ा णेनोढा िहतरं कांिच नयित सािप ा णोढा ां जनयती न ेन कारेण ष ी
स मं ा णं जनयित । (Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 30). Translation adapted from Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti,
Book I, 218.
Mitākṣarā: ा णेन वै यायाम ु ािदता अ ा । सा न ेन कारेण प मी ष ं ा णं जनयित । (Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkya-
smṛiti, 30). Translation adapted from Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 218.
Mitākṣarā: मूधाविस ा नेन कारेण चतथु प मं ा णमेव जनयित । (Panśīkar, Yādnyavalkyasmṛiti, 30). Trans-
lation adapted from Vasu, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Book I, 219.
Upadhyay, Brāhmaṇas in Ancient India, 175.

the status of one’s descendants would improve through hypergamous marriage. P. V. Kane

holds that the principle was valid only as a theory. He writes:

These provisions would considerably lessen the rigour of the caste system based purely
on birth. But one feels grave doubts whether such a method of jātyutkarṣa or jātya-
pakarṣa (particularly the one based upon occupation) was or could be ever enforced
in actual life. It would have been impossible to remember descent in a particular way
for five or seven generations. The want of unanimity among the original smṛtikāras
and the commentators also points in the direction that the method advocated, though it
might have originally some slight basis in fact, was only a hypothesis and an ideal.70

The pañjī records may ease Kane’s grave doubt regarding the plausibility of the enforce-

ment of jātyutkarṣa and jātyapakarṣa, even if the change of jāti occurs within a single caste.

The combination of the uteṛha pañjī and the rank system made the rise and fall of jāti grade

within the Maithil community possible.

Carolyn Brown has explained this theory in her analysis of the rank system in terms of

a “theory of quasi-biological kinship”71 that is based upon the “ethnosociological” model

used by Ronald Inden and McKim Marriott in their analysis of marriage and kinship in

Bengal. Brown claims that the indigenous Maithil view of the rank system is based upon

the principle of “substance”, which she defines as being “inherently of a moral order, which

carries its own code-for-conduct, which has a nature with a propensity to act in certain

ways.”72 The quality of ‘substance’ of Maithil Brahmin lineages was judged by a king, in the

manner explained in the above legend. The ‘substance’ of lineages was not fixed, but was

mutable and could be changed by conduct and marriage. Brown defines conduct, or what

she refers to as karmakanda, as “the expression of the in-born code-for-conduct in the action
Kane, History of Dharmaśāstra, vol. II, pt. I, 65.
Brown, “Substance and Structure,” 206.
Ibid., 201.

of the Brahmins.”73 This karmakanda is “reflexive”, in that a Brahmin’s conduct affects his

substance. She explains that a man of a lower rank may change his status by the “favorable

judgements” of genealogists, the king, and his peers.74 Moreover, she defines karmakanda

as “heritable”, in that any changes a man makes to his status is passed onto his offspring,

such that “a single elevated man lifts his entire line of descendants, or degrades them.”75

Brown also states that karmakanda is “normative”, men of inferior ranks can improve their

‘substance’ and raise their status by emulating the conduct of superior groups.76 The role

of marriage, for which she uses the term vivaha, in the alteration of ‘substance’ provides

both a “danger” and an “opportunity”. Brown states that if a man marries a woman from a

superior lineage, then that “superior blood is mixed with one’s own inferior blood”, thereby

improving its ‘substance’ as it is passed onto the offspring of the couple. Conversely, if the

woman is from a lower lineage than the man, then the ‘substance’ of the blood becomes

degraded and the offspring “acquire the inferior substance” of the mother.77

The application of the ‘substance’ theory becomes clearer when applied to the case of an

individual Brahmin. Recall from Chapter 1 that the uteṛha pañjī specifies the sixteen male

ancestors that form the sapiṇḍa boundary outside of which a potential bride or groom may

have any relation. As mentioned in that discussion, a child produced of the union represents

the merger of thirty-two patrilines; thirty-one of which are affinal and the remaining is the

Brown, “Substance and Structure,” 202.
Ibid., 203.

agnatic lineage. According to the ‘substance’ theory, that child is the product of the ‘sub-

stance’ of thirty-one lineages mixing with the ‘substance’ of the primary agnatic lineage.

Brown provides the example of a Jayavara groom and a Shrotriya bride. The offspring

of this union will have the ‘substance’ of sixteen Jayavara lineages and sixteen Shrotriya

lineages. A son of this marriage will have the mūla of his Jayavara father, but his ‘sub-

stance’ will be much higher than that of his father on account of the Shrotriya ‘substance’

inherited from his mother. In turn, if this son marries a Shrotriya bride, then the offspring

will inherit the ‘substance’ of sixteen Shrotriya lineages from his mother and the ‘substance’

of eight Shrotiya lineages from his father along with the ‘substance’ of the residual eight

Jayavara lineages. Now, the ‘substance’ of the thirty-two lineages that produced this son

consists of that of twenty-four Shrotriya lineages and eight Jayavara lineages. In this way, if

Shrotriya brides can be acquired for the sons of the next five generations, then the son of the

sixth generation would have the ‘substance’ of thirty-one Shrotriyas, but the ‘substance’ of

the agnatic Jayavara lineage would still remain. Brown states that a “Jaibar [Jayavara] lin-

eage may marry all Srotriya for eight generations”, which which point “individuals will be

composed of 31 parts of Srotriya substance”, but “that thirty-second line cannot be thrown

off” because it is “the inferior line of his Jaibar fathers which gives him his permanent

lineage identity.” The agnatic line is “his core of continuous substance.”78 As a Shrotriya

lineage is considered superior, the system is designed to permit “the reckoning of precise

Brown, “Substance and Structure,” 204.

proportions of Srotriya substance which any kula [family] had acquired through strategic


The above measurement of the ‘substance’ that makes up an individual Brahmin points

to Kumārila’s assertion that the offspring of a marriage between persons of different varṇa

“regains the original purity of the caste of his either parent, by a continuous excellence, or

otherwise, of conduct and relationships, when he reaches the fifth or seventh generation

downwards”. Kumārila was referring to the principles of jātyutkarṣa and jātyapakarṣa as

explained by Yājñavalkya and Vijñāneśvara.

of thirty-two Shrotriya lineages marries a bride from a Jayavara family. Their offspring

would possess the ‘substance’ of sixteen Shrotriya lineages and sixteen Jayavara lineages.

If their son subsequently marries a Jayavara bride, then the child of this union would have

the ‘substance’ of eight Shrotriya and twenty-four Jayavara lineages. In any case, all male

descendants would retain a small fraction of Shrotriya ‘substance’ on account of the original

Shrotriya rank of the agnatic lineage.

In the past, it may have been possible for a Brahmin father to have sons of mixed jāti-s,

one from a Brahmin wive and the other from a Kshatriya wife. The status of these sons

would be different although they have the same father. The rank system of the Maithil

Brahmins offers the reality that the status of sons from the same father and mother may

be different. Imagine the scenario that a Shrotriya family has three sons. The first son

is married to a Shrortiya bride, the second to a Yogya bride, and the third to a Jayavara

Brown, “Substance and Structure,” 207.

bride. This scenario will result in the grandchildren of the second and third sons belonging

to different grades, although the grandfather is a Srotriya.

In this way, it is possible to claim that the pañjī prabandha internalized a major principle

of the varṇa system within a single varṇa. As the rules of Brahmin marriage in Mithila

mandated that Brahmins must marry within the varṇa, the pañjī abolished the concessions

permitted by Yājñavalkya and other dharma authorities for Brahmins to marry wives of

other varṇa-s. With the rise of marriages based upon genealogies and rank, the classification

of inter-varna offspring was moved to within the Maithili Brahmin caste and redirected

towards the classification of jāti-s within the community.

By specifying that ‘Brahminhood’ is a function of birth, Kumārila laid the foundation

for ascriptive identity based upon genealogy. The rank system of the Maithil Brahmins,

however, takes hereditary identity to a whole new level. Srotriya status was originally based

upon one’s individual actions. The legend of the king’s assembly states that the thirteen

Brahmins who showed up last did so because they were devoted Brahmins. The rank system

set up a standard that status was no longer based solely upon one’s individual behavior, but

upon his parentage. A Yogya may be a more accomplished scholar than a Srotriya, but

the rank system fixed his status. It seems that the quandary posed by Śabara was taken to

heart by the Maithils, for they not only developed a genealogical means for recognizing

a Brahmin, for ensuring that future members of the community would be ‘Brahmin’ on

account of their lineages, but they developed a grade system for assessing the status of each


3.5 Origins of Lineage Rank

In the previous chapter I discussed the possibility that the mūla of the Maithils could have

been constructed based upon pre-existing information on the ancestral territories of Brah-

mins as well as new information gleaned from continued analysis of new genealogical

records. The same question may be applied to the rank system: do the grades represent

pre-existing notions of status among the Brahmins of Mithila before pañjī prabandha or

do they represent a new paradigm of status that emerged after the genealogical census? I

offer that, like the mūla, the ranking of lineages was based upon the existing social status

of Brahmin families before and during pañjī prabandha as well as upon status conferred

upon families as a result of genelogical analysis and personal achievement during and af-

ter pañjī prabandha. There are two points that deserve some discussion. The first is that

continued genealogical analysis likely resulted in increased knowledge about the marital

practices of lineages well beyond what may have been remembered or recorded by individ-

ual families. By collating information on families at the level of the mūla, the pañjīkara-s

were certainly able to identify the qualities of marital relations to much greater depth than

individual familiies themselves were capable of perceiving. The status of a family may

have risen or fallen based upon the history of marriages within their mūla. For instance, if

genealogists identified consanguineous marriages within some lineages of a Shrotriya mūla

then the status of those lineages would be degraded. The second point is that there is evi-

dence that shows the high status of several mūla-s before pañjī prabandha. As shown in the

discussion of the Visaphī mūla, it is apparent that their close relationship with the Karnata

dynasty and their own prominence within the Brahmin community gave them a rank in the

pañjī system. The same applies to the Khauāla, Oini, Siṃhāśrama, Sodarapura, Gaṅgaulī,

and Khaṇḍavalā mūla-s, who were known for their scholarship.

In his study of the Bangaon copper-plate described previously, D. C. Sircar writes that

the record “exhibits the great importance attached by the local Brahmanas of Tirabhukti to

their relationship with the Brahmanas of Kolanca”.80 He points to the fact that the Brahmin

minister Ghantisa “is found to trace his ancestry to a Kolancha Brahmana” in the inscription

on the record. Based upon this, Sircar concludes that Ghantisa’s “partiality to the Brah-

manas of Kolancha is also indicated by the endowment made by him out of his own land in

favour of another Kolancha Brahman”.81 He supports his claim by stating the following:

That Kolancha, together with Tarkari, apparently not far from it, was one of the most
renowned seats of learned Brahmanas in the early medieval period is definitely sug-
gested by numerous characters of East Indian rulers granted in favour of the Brahmanas
hailing from that place. The identification of the locality is disputed. Some scholars
locate it is the ancient Sravasti country, i.e., the district round modern Set-Mahet on
the borders of the Gonda and Bahraich Districts of the U. P., while other are inclined
to place it on the borders of the Dinajpur and Bogra Districts of North Bengal. The
suggestion of the former group of scholars appears to be more reasonable. Equally in-
teresting is the fact that the reverential attitude of East Indian Brahmanas towards the
Brahmanas of Kolancha, as evidenced by the record under review, seems to have been
an important factor in the growth of the peculiar social institution, known as Kulinism,
in North Bihar and Bengal.82

The ‘kulinism’ to which Sircar points in Mithila is the pañjī records and in Bengal to

the kulapañjī records. The traditional legend among the Bengali Brahmins is that a king

named Adisura wanted to perform a sacrifice, but that there were no Vedic Brahmins in

his kingdom. So, Adisura invited five learned Brahmins along with their servants from
Sircar, “Aspects of Marriage in North Indian Society,” 30.
Sircar, “Bangaon Plate,” 52–53.
Ibid., 53.

Kolanca. The Radha and Varendra Brahmins trace their ancestry to these five Brahmins

from Kolanca, or Kanauj. During the 12th century, a Karnata king named Ballala or Bal-

lalasena (c. 1159–79 ëí) is credited with introducing a hierarchy into the Brahmin caste by

ranking the descendants of the five Brahmins from Kolancha. Sircar claims that there is

epigraphical evidence for the establishing of this system in both Mithila and Bengal. He

cites the Bangoan copper-plate inscription described above, in which Ghāṇṭūkaśarman of

Kolanca is granted land in the village of Vasukavartta in Tirabhukti.

The difficulty with Sircar’s assessment that the Brahmins of Mithila “attached impor-

tance” to the Brahmins of Kolancha. While the Bengali kulapanji-s mention the migration

of five Brahmins from Kolancha to Bengal, such information is absent from Maithil records.

Moreover, it is not clear to which “Brahmins of Mithila” Sircar is referring? It may be the

case that the minister Ghantisa had given preference to a Brahmin from his maternal ances-

tral territory, but as discussed in the previous chapter, Ghantisa may have been a Brahmin

from Mithila, but he was not a Maithil Brahmin and there is no record of him in the pañjī.

As I have shown in this chapter, the growth of ‘Kulinism’ or lineage-based status, in Mithila

arose not from the external origins of the Maithil lineages, but from the importance of cer-

tain lineages within the Karnata kingdom and their proximity to the king’s authority. It may

have certainly been the case that the ancestry of a viji purūṣa could be traced to Kolancha or

some other territory, but the pañjī prabandha severed any such ties. While the Radha and

Varendra Brahmins of Bengal trace their ancestry to Kolancha and consider themselves as

a sub-section of the Kanyakubja Brahmins, the Maithil Brahmins do not trace their ancestry

outside of Mithila.

3.6 Conclusion

The creation of hereditary Brahmin lineages through the codification of the mūla had two

repercussions on the Maithil community. Both arise from the ranking of the lineages. First,

the lineage ranking resulted in the stratification of the caste. Because of the emphasis placed

upon endogamy within the grades, the three grades began to function like sub-castes. The

second repercussion was the emergence of the Shrotriya grade as the preeminent grade of

Brahmin. A Brahmin was a Shrotriya on account of his learning and conduct, and these

qualifications were recognized by the king. In this way the Shrotriya title gave the Brah-

min access to certain privileges with regard to the king. It is commonly understood that the

purpose of pañjī prabandha was to prevent illegitimate marriages among the Brahmins of

Harisimhadeva’s kingdom. The introduction of a ranking system and the expansion of the

panji records indicate that there was a purpose to the implementation of official genealo-

gies that extended beyond the domain of marriage. Although there are no manuscript or

epigraphical sources from the Karnata period that offer any insight into the reasons for the

implementation of pañjī prabandha, I have demonstrated using the pañjī records, literary

sources, and inscriptions that Brahmins had attained prominent positions within the Karnata

kingdom. Moreover, these Brahmins appear to be largely responsible for the actions of the

king, to the point that a ‘council’ ushered in the reign of Harisimhadeva by advocating the

abdication of his father, Sakrasimha. That members of the Visaphī mūla retained hereditary

positions within the government, and that these individuals authored treatises on everything

from the duties of a householder to the bestowal of grants to the proper sacraments to be

followed during certain holidays, indicates that they held considerable influence over the

kingdom. It is quite possible that the idea for pañjī prabandha arose from these smr̥ti writ-

ers. The intent could have been multifarious, so that it would include a system for ensuring

proper marriages, as well as for maintaining a census of the Brahmins of the kingdom, and

for understanding ‘who is who’ among the community. Given the power of Brahmins in

the Karnata kingdom, it is fair to establish that the pañjī prabandha was conceived by and

implemented by Brahmins for Brahmins, and that as a matter of protocol they attached the

name of Harisimhadeva to the endeavor. In the next chapter I discuss the emergence of a

new authority of certain Brahmin lineages at a time of distress, or the rise of a Brahmin


Gotra Uttama Madhyama
Śāṇḍilya Pabaulī Dirghosa
Gaṅgaulī Yajuāṛa
Vatsa Ghusauta Ṭaṅkavala
Tisauta Jallakī
Karmaha Ujati
Buddhavala Phanadaha
Baherāṛha Sankona
Kāśyapa Darihara Baliyāsa
Mandara Pandua
Sankaradhi Bisapi
Khauāla Satalakha
Parāśara Narauna Suragaṇa
Sāvarṇa — Pañcobha
Bhāradvāja — Belauñca
Kātyāyana Kujauli —

Table 3.2: Eatablished (vyavasthita) mūla-s of the Maithil Brahmins.

Chapter 4

The Brahmin as King

The regulation of brahminical genealogies and marriage practices in the Karṇāṭa kingdom

established the Brahmins of Mithila as an endogamous, territorial jāti of ‘Maithila Brah-

mins’. Soon afterwards, the newly-established community was faced with two challenges

that changed the nature of the jāti. The first of these was the introduction of a hierarchi-

cal instructure into the social organization of the Maithil Brahmins. The second was the

end of Harisimhadeva’s rule. Soon after the pañjī prabandha, the army of Ghiyas-ud-din

Tughluq (r. 1321–1325) overran Mithila after subjugating the kingdom of Lakhnauti in

Bengal and forced Harisimhadeva to flee from the throne to the foothills in Nepal.1 The

ouster of Harisimhadeva ended two centuries of Karṇāṭa rule in Mithila. More impor-

tantly, it terminated traditional Hindu rule by Kshatriyas in the region. With the defeat of

Harisimhadeva, Mithila was incorporated into the Delhi Sultanate and was known admin-

istratively as ‘Tirhut’.2 The pañjī-prabandha carried out during the reign of Harisimhadeva

placed the control of the social order of the Maithil Brahmins into the hands of the king.

Now after the defeat of Harisimhadeva they had to accommodate the rule of the Sultan at

Ansari, “Tughluq Control over Bihar,” 158–159.
Jackson, The Delhi Sultanate, 201.

Delhi. After a long period of political instability in north Bihar brought about by the cam-

paigns of Ghiyas-ud-din, his son and successor Muhammad bin Tughlug (r. 1325–1351) re-

stored Hindu rule in the region through the appointment of a new ruler of Tirhut.3 This new

regent, however, was no ordinary Hindu king, in fact he was not even a Kshatriya. Kamesh-

war Thakur was a high-ranking Brahmin of the Oini mūla and the former rāja paṇḍita ‘royal

priest’ of Maharaja Harisimhadeva.

Between 1351 and 1947, there were two main Brahmin lineages that controlled various

parts of Mithila. The first was the Oinivara, which was followed by the Khandavala. The

Brahmins of these lineages established dynasties that maintained both social and political

control over the territories of the erstwhile Tirabhukti, which by the time of the Delhi Sul-

tanate had come to be known as Tirhut. These Brahmin rulers acquired their power from

both external and internal sources. In their role as functional Kshatriyas, the Oinivaras and

political elites of other lineages protected their local power and landed interests by deriving

their authority from external rulers. They then leveraged this authority internally to preserve

the integrity of the Maithil Brahmin community and their status as high-ranking members

of the jāti. In doing so these Brahmin-kings maintained their position through a precari-

ous dichotomy: on the one hand, their status as high-ranking Brahmins bound them to the

caste community through marriage and kin relations, and on the other their status as rulers

bound them to the larger political domain. In this chapter I discuss the manner in which

the Brahmin rulers of Tirhut exerted their control externally, namely how they maintained

control of the space between the local community and imperial society by positioing them-
Ansari, “Tughluq Control over Bihar,” 170–171.

selves a buffer between the Brahmin varṇa and the profane domain of the Delhi Sultans,

the Mughals, and finally the British.

4.1 The Start of Brahmin Rule

Formal rule by Brahmins in Tirhut began with the Oinivaras (see figure 4.2). The six-

teen rulers of this dynasty faced the turbulence of shifting imperial powers, contestations

for the territorial integrity of Tirhut, and attempts by kinsmen to usurp their powers. Yet,

the Oinivaras managed to maintain a level of control over Tirhut for nearly two centuries

(c. 1351–1532). However, it is not clear exactly how and why Kameshvar Thakur acquired

the sanction to rule Tirhut. Some indication is given in the chronicles of Ikhtisan, a minister

of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq, who was part of the Sultan’s expedition to Bengal. With regard

to the Sultan’s attack on Harisimhadeva, the chronicle reports:

The Rai of Tirhut was arrogant on account of his resources in man and material and also
strong fortification. He did not acknowledge the overlordship of the Sultan of Delhi,
let alone the payment of tribute. Informed of the march of the Delhi army under the
command of the Sultan into his territory, he lost courage and sough safety in flight. He
considered the forest and hills safer than his fort. A few days later, the Sultan entered
the large city of Tirhut. He stayed there for quite some time to organize the administra-
tion of the region. The officers were posted in the newly carved-out territorial units and
the land chiefs who resisted, depending on the dense forests around their strongholds,
were attached and eliminated. But those chiefs who acquiesed were spared and re-
warded with additional land for maintaining an increased number of soldiers for the
service of the centre.4

The “Rai of Tirhut” is Harisimhadeva, but the account does not specify the identity of these

“land chiefs”. Of interest is the point that ‘chiefs who acquiesed’ were given control of

the conquered territories of the Karnata kingdom, which had been incorporated as an iqta
Siddiqui, Perso-Arabic Sources on the Life and Conditions in the Sultanate of Delhi, 95.

within the Sultanate.5 According to the historian Iqtidar Hussain Siddiqui, the Sultans of

Delhi had a particular policy regarding lands helds by Hindus. He writes, “[t]he ruling elite

of the Sultanate differentiated the raiyat (or Hindu masses) from the high-caste Hindus,

the Brahmans, and the land chiefs.”6 Moreover, they considered these high-caste Hindus

as hereditary land chiefs and the Sultan’s policy towards such chiefs was influenced by

the traditions established by Muslim rulers in Sind and Punjab. Siddiqui cites the example

of Qutbuddin Aibek, the founder of the Delhi Sultanate, who “appointed a Rana from the

Benaras territory as sahib-i-barid (the head of the intelligence department), although his

Muslim associates were opposed to an Indian’s appointment to such an important post.”7

The goal of such an appointment was likely to gain the confidence and loyalty of local

political elites, who were willing to recognize the authority of the Sultan of Delhi. Siddiqui

also cites the example of Rai Ramchandra of Deogiri, who was defeated by Alauddin Khalji

in 1307, but had his territory restored to him as a zamindari.8 During the reign of Firoz Shah

Tuqhluq, the successor to Ghiyas-ud-din, the term zamindar was applied to hereditary land

chiefs, which suggests that they had autonomy in their territories.9

The preference of the Delhi Sultans for appointing high-caste Hindus as zamindar-s

may explain the appointment of Kameshvar Thakur as a ruler of Tirhut. In the previous

chapter I explained that the Oini lineage of the Khauala mūla had been recognized as an

eminent lineage and that it was established as an independent mūla. The mūla was estab-

Siddiqui, Authority and Kingship under the Sultans of Delhi, 246.
Ibid., 72.
Ibid., 73.
Ibid., 75.

lished after Oinaha was granted the village that was named ‘Oini’ after him. The excerpt

of the Khauala mūla pañjī shows that Kameshvar Thakur was a raja pandita, presumbly at

the Karnata court. It would not be too far-fetched to consider that after Harisimhadeva fled

from Tirhut, Kameshvar the ‘chief priest’ and Candesvara the ‘minister of war and peace’ of

the Karnata court came forward when Ghiyas-ud-din rewarded land to chiefs who displayed

their loyalty and petitioned for control of the lands of their former king. The social status of

Kameshwar Thakur and the long-standing position of the family of Candesvara may have

been viewed favorably by the Delhi Sultan, especially as gaining the loyalty of these high-

ranking Brahmins might encourage other landed elites in the community to accept the new

authority in Delhi.

Kameshvar Thakur was installed as the Sultan’s representative in Tirhut by Muhammad

bin Tughlug (r. 1325–1351). The Sultan, however, did not give Kameshwar sole authority to

manage Tirhut. He appointed the ruler of Lakhnauti, Haji Ilyas Shah, to oversee Kameshwar

Thakur. When Muhammad bin Tughluq passed away, Ilyas Shah sensed an opportunity

to exert his control over Tirhut. He invaded the province and divided it into two. The

chronicler Mulla Taqiya wrote that Kameshvar objected to the action and raised forces

to defend his territories, but after several battles Ilyas Shah asserted his dominance over

Kameshwar.10 Ilyas Shah took control of the western and southern portions of Tirhut — the

areas known as Hajipur, after Haji Ilyas — and he left the northern areas and the areas east

of the river Gandak with Kameshwar. Shortly after ascending to the throne at Delhi, Firoz

Ansari, “Consolidation of Tughlaq Rule,” 186.

Shah Tuqhluq (r. 1351–1388) launched a campaign against Haji Ilyas. After reacquiring

Tirhut, Firoz Shah issued a farman in 1353, which reads

The zamindars, amongst whom are included muqaddams, mafruzian, malikan, etc.,
from the bank of the river Kosi up to the boundary of Lakhnauti (Bengal), who come
and join us would be exempted from the payment of revenue (tribute) for the current
year. Moreover, the privileges enjoyed by their ancestors during the reigh of Sultan
Shamsuddin Iltutmish would be restored and the tribute refixed accordingly.11

Firoz Shah deposed Kameshvar, and placed the latter’s son Bhogishvara in charge of the

territory. In the Kirtilata, Vidyapati remarks that Bhogishvara was a piya sakhi ‘dear friend’

of Firoz Shah, but the description is likely a polite way of expressing the Sultan’s discontent

with Kameshvar’s ability to maintain control of Tirhut and to defend the territories under

his control from invaders. Some sources state that Bhogishvara decided to share control of

Tirhut with his brother Bhavasimha.12 It may not have been an equal share of the right to

rule, but a deputation of authority of a portion of territory. The jurisdictions over which the

brothers Bhogishvara and Bhavasimha presided is not recorded, but their joint rule seems to

have provoked the jealousy of the latter, which resulted in the murder of Bhogishvara. Bh-

ogishvara was replaced by his son Ganeshvara, who according to Vidyapati was murdered

by a Turk named Aslan. Some modern scholars claim that Ganeshvara was actually mur-

dered by someone in his uncle Bhavasimha’s lineage in an attempt to gain complete control

of Tirhut. They hold that the story of Aslan is a sanitization of the facts by Vidyapati. The

historian Radhakrishna Chaudhary states that Devasimha, the son of Bhavasimha launched

a coup to take control of the rulership. Despite the attempt, Ganeshvara’s son Kirtisimha

Siddiqui, Authority and Kingship under the Sultans of Delhi, 174.
Grierson, “On Some Mediæval Kings of Mithila,” 58.

is reconfirmed as the rightful ruler. The line of Bhogishvara ends with Kirtisimha as he

passes away without a male heir.

The Oinivara rulership of Tirhut passes over to the lineage of Bhavasimha, who had

two sons. The elder son, Devasimha, becomes the Oinivara king, but abdicates in favor of

his son, Sivasimha. Sivasimha is considered to be the most politically active king of the

Oinivaras. He colluded with Raja Kansa, a zamindar of Bengal, with the purpose of gaining

independence from Ibrahim Shah Sharqi of Jaunpur. But, he was captured by Ibrahim

Shah, who restored Devasimha as the ruler. After the death of Devasimha, Ibrahim Shah

once again placed control of Tirhut in the hands of Sivasimha. Why Ibrahim Shah did

so is not known. Sivasimha, in any case, revolted again. He is said to have asserted his

independence from Delhi and Jaunpur by ceasing payment of taxes or tribute. He minted

his own coins and initiated military campaigns against other landed chiefs on the borders

of Tirhut.13 After his death his queen Lakhimadevi took control of Tirhut and eventually

the rulership passed to Sivasimha’s younger brother Padmasimha. Padmasimha was also

succeeded by his queen Visvasadevi. The Oinivara line of Devasimha ended here, as both

Sivasimha and Padmasimha died without male heirs.

The Oini rulership passed to Bhavasimha’s second son Harisimha, who in turn was

followed by Narasimha. By this time the territory controlled by the Oinivaras had been

significantly reduced. Nasir Shah (r. 1442–1459) of Bengal had taken control of the Bha-

galpur region of eastern Tirhut. The western portion of Tirhut centered upon Hajipur also

came under the sway of Nasir Shah. After Narasimha’s death, his eldest son Dhirasimha
Choudhary, History of Muslim Rule in Tirhut, 74.

took control of the Oinivara territory. But in 1470, Ruknuddin Barbak Shah invaded Tirhut

and once again split the province into two; he established himself at Hajipur and gave con-

trol of the residual Tirhut to Dhirasimha’s brother Bhairavasimha (r. 1475). Bhairavasimha

asserted his independence from Barbak Shah and managed to conquer Hajipur and extend

Tirhut to its original western boundary along the river Gandak.14 He managed to main-

tain control of Tirhut, but after his death the Bengal Sultan reclaimed the territory. In

1495, Sikander Lodi (r. 1489–1517) overran Tirhut. Not much is known about the con-

dition of Oinivara rule under Bhairavasimha’s son Ramabhadrasimha. As Lodi influence

was unstable in Tirhut, the Sultan of Bengal, Alauddin Hussain Shah, took advantage of

the situation and conquered northern Bihar from Purnea in the east to Saran in the west.

Ramabhadrasimha somehow remained a ruling chief of Tirhut throughout all of this. His

son Lakshinathasimha (r. 1518–1532) took over, but five years after Alauddin’s son Nasrat

Shah invaded Tirhut in 1527, the latter ended the life of the Oinivara ruler and subjugated

Tirhut. The defeat of Lakshinathasimha brought the Oinivara dynasty of Tirhut to a close.

The Oinivara rulers were certainly active in maintaining their control of Tirhut in the face

of changing political circumstances throughout northern India and the various imperial dy-

nasties through which Tirhut passed as a tributary province. In addition to external political

pressures, the Oinivaras dealt with feuds within the family, as brother vied against brother

for the position of ruling chief of Tirhut.

In the Kirtilata, a lyrical work from the 15th century about the Oinivara kings, Vidyāpati

Choudhary, History of Muslim Rule in Tirhut, 79.

ओइनी वंस पिस जग को तस ु करइ ण सेव । ए ु अ भूदवे ॥
न पािवअइ भअवै

The Oini dynasty is known throughout the world; is there anyone who does not serve
Nowhere else are Brahmins and kings found mingled together.

ता कुल के र वि पन कहवा कवन उँपाए । ज ि अ उ मित कमेसर सन राए ॥

By what measure should the greatness of the lineage be described;

where else was arisen a king equal in maturity and intellect to Kameshvara?

तस ु न न भोिगसराआ वर भोग परु र । आ आसन तेिजकि कुसमाउँ

ु ह सु र ॥

जाचक िसि के दार दान प म विल जानल । िपआसखा भिण िपअरोजसाह सरतान समानल ॥

His son Bhogishvara delighted in luxuries on par with Indra [Purandara].

As splendid and handsome as Kamadeva [Kusumayudha],
he was known for his donations to beggars and mendicants; he was five times as great
as Bali.
The Sultan Firoz Shah called him his dear friend.

तास ु तनअ नअ िवनअ गनु ग ु अ राए गएन ेस । जे प ाइअ दसओ िदस िकि कुसमु संदस
े ॥

His son was Ganeshvara, who was righteous, loyal, and had all the qualities of a guru;
his fame and splendor spread in each of the ten directions.

ताि करो प ु यवु राजि ु िकि िसंह ।15

[...] ि म ीरिसंह । तास ु किन गिर गण

His sons were the princes [...] Virasimha, and his younger brother Kirtisimha.

The above portrays the Oinivara lineage as one where Brahmins and kings ‘mingled to-

gether’. It is the first time in Mithila where such a ‘mingling’ had taken place.

4.2 The Nature of Brahmin Rulership

The overthrow of the Karnata dynasty and the rise of a Brahmin king changed the nature

of kingship in Tirhut and altered some basic brahminical ideologies about the king and

the state. A few generations after Kameshvara Thakur began his rule, the old minister
Kīrtilatā pt. 1 (Sakasenā, Kīrtilatā, 10–14).

Candesvara wrote a treatise titled Rājanīti-ratnākara. By this time he had written six other

treatises on various aspects of smr̥ti, but this seventh would be his last. Candesvara reports

that the work was written at the request of the Oinivara king Bhavasimha.16 During the reign

of Harisimhadeva, Candesvara had composed his Gr̥hasta-ratnākara, which may have been

motivated by the social changes in Mithila out of which the pañjī prabandha emerged. The

instability that arose after the fall of the Karnata kingdom and that continued through the

early generations of the Oini dynasty may have likewise inspired Candesvara to compile

his thoughts regarding the nature of kingship and the political organization of the state

during an era that the law-giver Manu might have called āpat, or ‘despair’. Candesvara

opens the Rājanīti-ratnākara with a section titled ‘Rājño Nirūpaṇa’ or ‘The Qualities of a

King’, at the outset of which he defines the meaning of rāja or ‘king’ as “he who protects

the people”.17 Then, he provides the example of the mythical Veṇa, an evil king, as a

hypothetical objection to the definition he offers of the king as ‘protector’. “If protection

of the people makes one a king, then the meaning of a ‘king’ is questionable because Veṇa

didn’t protect people, but he was still a king.” Candesvara responds that kingship is a matter

of capability, and even Veṇa was capable, even if he did not fulfill his potential for just rule.

This discussion of the basic meaning of a king and the importance of ‘capability’ (yogyatā)

is intended to emphasize the primary point that Candesvara wishes to make in this section

of the treatise, which follows as:

Rājanīti-ratnākara, pt. 1: राज भावेशने ा ो राजनीितिनब कम ।् तनोतो मि णामा ः ीमान च् डे रः कृ ती ॥ (Jayaswal,
Rājanīti-Ratnākara by Chaṇḍeśvara, 1).
Rājanīti-ratnākara pt. 1: [...] जार को राजे थः (ibid., 2).

अत एव कु ू कभ ः राजश ोऽिप ना ि यजाितपरः िक िभिष जनपदपालियतृप ु षपरः । राज-
नीितकामधेनौ रा ािभिष ो राजा जापालनादे दीय ात ् त ाक ् ानासंभवा िे त जापालन े वृ
इित बहवः । व तु ु जापालन वृ िभषेकादयोऽ कारणमा ं जा ािम े राज ने िस ो राजा
के वलशौ ा ा रा राज ु ॥18
वहारािदित गरवः

As stated by Kulluka Bhatta: “the word rāja here is not only indicative of one from the
Kshatriya jāti, but also to one who has been coronated in order to care for the country”.
The Rājanīti-kāmadhenu states “he who is coronated in the kingdom is the king and
before that it is not possible to have experience in looking after the people because only
the king is engaged in such duty. [need to finish the translation]

According to Candesvara the word rāja generally indicates someone from the Kshatriya

varṇa, but it is not necessary that the king be a Kshatriya. The point of having a king,

he offers, is to provide protection of the people and kingdom, and therefore, he who is

coronated as the king, whatever be his varṇa, is to be regarded as the king as long as he

fulfills his obligation. After laying down the definition of a king and who may sit upon the

throne, Candesvara offers the following:

राजा त ु ि िवधो ये ाट ् च सकरोऽकरः ।

स ्
ः ि ितपाले ो िन ं गृ ाित वै करम ॥
स स ािदित िव ये व स एव िह ।
मािस मािस कर ा तथ ैव च ॥
सकरः स त ु िव ये ो राजल णसंयतु ः ।
े ाजेन यो ददाित िह
करं स श े या ।
अधी र मेवा ः शा े शा िवदो जनाः ॥19

There are three types of kings, known as samrāṭ, sakara, and akara. He who al-
ways collects taxes from all from kings is known as a samrāṭ ‘emperor’ and is also
a cakravartin ‘world conquerer’. He, who gives taxes on a monthly basis or every
year is known as a sakara ‘taxed’. He who gives tax on his own accord under the pre-
tense of a gift, he known by people as an adhisvara ‘king or lord’ as described in the

Rājanīti-ratnākara pt. 1. (Jayaswal, Rājanīti-Ratnākara by Chaṇḍeśvara, 2–3).
Rājanīti-ratnākara pt. 1. (ibid., 3).

Candesvara’s three-fold classification of a king suggests that political thinkers in 14th cen-

tury Tirhut realized that times had changed. Ideally, the king would be a sovereign or an

emperor, but it was acceptable if his position and rule was subordinate to an imperial au-

thority. It may be inferred from Candesvara that the payment of mandatory taxes or the

realization of taxes in the form of tribute was also acceptable, particularly if it meant that

the king was able to maintain order within his local realm or jurisdiction. He further states:

[...] ृ ादावमी राज ने ाता लोके त ु राजेित सकरः च व स ाट ् अधी रो महाराज इित
िस ाः िवशेष ितप ु
नरोधात प् र ु याणामिप ध सममेव िवशेषानिभधानात ।् [...]20

According to the smr̥ti and other sources, these kings are all known commonly as
‘kings’; a sakara, cakravarti, samrāṭ, and adhisvara are known as ‘maharāja’ in ac-
cordance with the nature of their reign; but, despite the differences, the dharma of the
three is the same.

Although these three types of kings are differentiated by being the recipient or giver of tax

or tribute, they still have the same duties and responsibilities. The classification of kings

with regard to their relative independence and dependence is important to Candesvara, for

he continues to describe the specific features of each. He states that there are two types of

the akara raja or adhisvara: one who is free from taxation either on account of his heroism

(saurya) or by the mercy (anugraha) of the samrāṭ.21 The first is able to rule on his own

accord, while the other rules through the direct oversight of the samrāṭ.22 The akara raja

conducts his own affairs within the rule of law and gives tribute for the sake of maintaining

peace.23 There are also two types of sakara raja, differentiated by the right to enforce the

Rājanīti-ratnākara pt. 1. (Jayaswal, Rājanīti-Ratnākara by Chaṇḍeśvara, 4).
Rājanīti-ratnākara, pt. 1: अधी रो ि िवधः शौ ादकरः स ाडन ु हा करः । (ibid.).
Rājanīti-ratnākara, pt. 1: आ ः े य ैव द डािद ददाित । ि तीयोऽ न ु हात ।् (ibid.).
23 ्
Rājanīti-ratnākara, pt. 1: ि तीयािभ ायेणदे म आ शमाथ स श े ाजेन िकि रं ददाित । (ibid.).

rule of law. The first type has the ability to enforce and punish with sole authority, while the

second type does not have the authority to punish and may have his enforcement abilities

overruled by the samrāṭ.24

It is apparent that Candesvara wrote the Rājanīti-ratnākara at a time when Tirhut was no

longer governed by a sovereign ruler, a Kshatriya, or a Hindu. The times may have changed,

but as Candesvara makes it clear through this treatise, the shifting political circumstances

in the land did not invalidate the necessity of kingship. Regardless of the broader changes,

the local kingdom and its people still needed to be protected. The Karnata Kshatriyas were

gone, so Candesvara states that anyone can become the ruler so long as he is coronated and

he ensures the prosperity of the kingdom and its inhabitants. The classification of three

types of kings is also significant. Candesvara recognized that the king may be not inde-

pendent and that his ultimate authority may derive from an external source. He was also

aware that the position of a ruler and the welfare of the kingdom may depend upon an

economic relationship between the local ruler and a samrāṭ. Candesvara started his career

under Harisimhadeva and ended it in service in the court of Bhavasimhadeva. During this

time he witnessed the fall of the Karnatas, the entrance of Turkic governors, and the estab-

lishment of the Oinivara dynasty. It was likely through these experiences that Candesvara

gained the insight to modify traditional principles of kingship to meet the needs of a new

era. With the rise of Kameshvar and the Oinivara dynasty, it is possible that Candesvara’s

acceptance of a non-Kshatriya king was a veiled validation of brahminical kingship.

Rājanīti-ratnākara, pt. 1: सकरोऽिप ि िवधः अिधकृ तद डािदरनिधकृ तद डािदः । (Jayaswal, Rājanīti-Ratnākara by


Chaṇḍeśvara, 4).

The Kirtilata provides additional insight into the nature of brahminical rule in Tirhut

under the Oinivaras. Although it is a literary work, its themes and subjects appear to be

based to an extent upon the political and social realities of Tirhut as observed by Vidyap-

ati. One section of the text confirms Candesvara’s descriptions of the subordinate status of

kings. In order to avenge the murder of their father Ganeshvara by a Turk named Aslan,

the princes Virasimha and Kirtisimha travel by foot from Tirhut westward to Yavanapura

in hopes of seeking an audience with Ibrahim Shah, the Sultan. As he narrates this tale in

the Kīrtilatā, the poet Vidyapati describes in detail the journey of the two princes as they

encounter various villages along the way, steer free from the temptations of the bazaars,

observe the mistreatment of a Brahmin boy by a Muslim thug,25 and finally enter the grand

court of the Sultan. When the time comes for Kirtisimha to address the Sultan, he begins,

“Today is a great day, it is an auspicious day and the present time is an auspicious mo-

ment, for today I will make my mother proud, and today is especially meritorious because I

have touched the Sultan’s slippers.”26 He then states, “but there are two misfortunate deeds

that I must report: Someone is gaining glory by basking in yours, and that someone has

sent my father to heaven.”27 The Sultan demanded to know, “Who is he that calls himself

king of Tirhut?”28 The prince replied, “I tell you this with fear in my heart; but, you are

Kirtilata, pt. 1: िह तरु के िमलल बास एकक ध े अओका उपहास । कत वाँग कत वेद कत िमिसिमल कत छेद । कत ओझा
कत षोजा कत नकत कत रोजा । कत त ा कत कू जा कत नीमाज क ् त पूजा । कत त ु क बरकइ वाँट ् जाइते बेगार धर । धिर आनए

बाँभन बटुआ मथाँ चडावए गाइक चडुआ । फोट चाट जनउ तोड उमर चढ़ावए चाह घोर ॥ धोआउिर धान े मिदरा साँध देउर भाँिग मसीद बाँध ।
गोिर गोमठ पिरलु मही पए देना एक ठाम नह ॥ िह बोिल रिह िनकार छोटे ओ तरु का भभिक मार ॥ िह िह गो ओ िगिलए हल त ु क देिख
होअ भान । अइसेओ तस ु परतापे रह िचरे जीवत सरतान
ु ॥ (Sakasenā, Kīrtilatā, 42–44).
Kīrtilatā, pt. 1: अ अ व अ क ान अ सिदन ु समु ु अ माञे मझ ु प ु जाइअ अ प ु पिरसु था पाितसाह पापोस पाइअ
। (ibid., 18).
Kīrtilatā, pt. 1: अकुशल वेिविह ए पइ अवर त ु परताप । अ लोअ र स ग गउ गअणराए मझ ु बाप ॥ (ibid.).
Kīrtilatā, pt. 1: फरमान भेल कञोण चािह ित ित लेल जि सािह.

here, Aslan is there. First, he did not obey what you had commanded, then he murdered

Ganeshvara. Now he has taken shelter there. He has hoisted his royal standard and is col-

lecting the taxes of Tirhut.”29 The Sultan grows increasingly incensed as Kirtisimha airs

his grievances. Outraged by the new of Aslan, Ibrahim Shah orders his army to move upon

Tirhut. The Sultan and the princes reach Tirhut and a great battle ensues. The elder prince

Virasimha dies with valor as he protects Kirtisimha from an attack. After Aslan’s army is

defeated Kritisimha engages the treacherous commander arm to arm. The prince overpow-

ers Aslan, but at the final moment spares his life. Victorious, the Sultan and Kirtisimha

leave the battlefield as the sound of conches fills the air. Then, a great celebration is held

in which the verses of the four Vedas are recited in all directions, and at an auspicious time

Kirtisimha was coronated as king of Tirhut by the Sultan.30 Vidyapati closes the tale stating

that “Kirtisimha’s unequalled victories made him equal to the great king Vkramaditya. He

gained the benefaction of the Sultan by crushing the pride of the wicked through his own

bravery; moreover, Kirtisimha reclaimed his father’s kingdom from his enemy and fulfilled

the desires of the Sultan in doing so.”31

As is evident from the title of the work, the Kīrtilatā narrates the story of Kirtisimha,

the great-great-grandson of Kameshvar Thakur through his elder son Bhogishvara. The

narrative focuses upon Kirtisimha’s attempt to regain the kingdom of Tirhut, of which his

father Ganeshvara was king, and his ultimate success in being made king. The tale possesses

Kīrtilatā, pt. 1: डरे किहनी कहए आन ञेहां तोहे ताहां असलान । पढम पेि अ त ु ु फरमान । गए ाए तौ विधअ तौन सेअ िवहार
चािपअ । चलइ त चामर परइ धिरअ छ ित ित उगािहअ ।
Kīrtilatā pt. 1: तो पलि अ िजि रण राए श िन उ िलअ िन गीत वि अ चािर वेअ झ ार सहु म ा अिहषेक िकि अ ।
31 ु
Kīrtilatā, pt. 1: जे े राञे अतलतरिव म िव मािद करेओ तल ु नञे साहस सािध पाितसाह आरािद ा करेओ द चूरओ े िपतृ ब ैिर
उँ िर सािह करो मनोरथ पूरओे (Sakasenā, Kīrtilatā, 14).

all of the narrative devices and ostentatious details that a court poet would employ in an

adulation of his patron and the king’s lineage and realm. Vidyapati, who is still celebrated

in Mithila, was active in the court of the Oinivara ruler Sivasimha, the great-great-grandson

of Kameshvar Thakur from his second son Bhavasimha. Vidyapati’s story is, in effect, the

history of his patron’s paternal cousin. Although the Kīrtilatā is a literary work, the plot of

the tale, its protagonists and antagonists, as well as the personages and places mentioned in

it suggest that the core of the work is based upon historical circumstances.

Additionally, a close reading of the Kīrtilatā brings to light much information regarding

kingship and governance in Tirhut during Oinivara rule in the 14th century. Firstly, in order

to avenge the death of Ganeshvara, the princes inform Ibraham Shah of the incident and seek

his permission to take action against Aslan. Secondly, even though Kirtisimha is the prince

of Tirhut he shows his deference to the Sultan by touching his slippers. Thirdly, Kirtisimha

tells Ibrahmin Shah that Aslan is using the name of the Sultan to impose his rule over Tirhut

and, specifically, that he is collecting taxes. This detail suggests that Kirtisimha viewed the

collection of taxes as his right and his mention of it is an expression of his own personal

displeasure, voiced through Vidyapati, of Aslan’s usurpation of his hereditary position.

Fourthly, Virasimha and Kirtisimha engage Aslan in battle under the banner of the Sultan,

not with their own armies. This may suggest that the military of the Oinivara kings was

small or it might be a deference to the Sultan’s authority. Fourthly, both Virasimha and

Kirtisimha are described as engaging in battle. This suggests perhaps that the Brahmin

Oinivaras actually took up arms to defend their rule; equally, it could be seen as poetic

license to show the valor of the princes, as might be Kirtisimha sparing the life of Aslan.

Lastly, and most importantly, Vidyapati states that with great celebration, and according to

proper Vedic rites, the Sultan coronated Kirtisimha as the king of Tirhut.

The Kīrtilatā, therefore, suggests that the Oinivara rulers were subordinate to external

authorities and that Tirhut was a province or tributary state within a larger empire. The

traditional perspective in Mithila is that the Brahmin kings of this time period paid tribute

to external rulers, but that Tirhut remained ‘independent’ of Muslim rule. This perspective

is upheld by Shyam Narayan Singh in his History of Tirhut (1922), which states that ‘the

Rājas of Mithilā as of the rest of India were subject to the Delhi Emperor so far as they had to

pay revenue, otherwise they were independent.”32 Such statements are questionable when

interpreted through the lenses of the Kīrtilatā and other literary sources produced during

the Oinivara period and the Khandavala dynasy that succeeded it. More significantly, such

statements do not take into account the intricate circumstances and conditions under which

the Oinivaras found themselves operating. It is more historically accurate to state that the

Oinivaras negotiated with successive imperial regimes in order to preserve their interests.

The narrative from the Kirtilata also complements Candesvara’s descriptions of the three

types of subordinate kings. Based upon Candesvara’s treatise, it is clear that most Oinivara

rulers held onto Tirhut as sakara raja-s, or rulers who paid tribute or tax to an emperor. The

sources show that the position of these Brahmins as rulers was heavily dependent upon the

benefaction of the Sultan of Delhi. Despite the frequent attempts by imperial and regional

powers to wrestle Tirhut from the Oinivaras, the province remained in the hands of these
Singh, History of Tirhut, 68.

Brahmins through their own initiatives and on account of repeated interventions of external


Although it is a departure from the ideals that Manu and Yajnavalkya had established

in their smr̥ti-s, the Rājanīti-ratnākara accepts a non-Kshatriya king. While Candesvara

was open to anyone becoming king, he was less open to changing the traditional structure

of the government, or king’s court, as was described by Manu and Yajnavalkya. A king

is anyone who is coronated and takes on the duty of protecting the people, but he must

still have a group of councilors: “a king cannot function without a minister”.33 Quoting

Manu, Candesvara says that the king should choose “seven or eight ministers”, who are

known for their “service to kings, knowledge of the sastra-s, experienced in battle, and

from prestigious lineages” that have provided hereditary service to kings.34 He then goes

on to state

सवषा ु िविश ने ा णेन िवपि ता । म ये रम ्

ं राजा षा ु यसंयतु म ॥
िन ं ति न स् मा ः सवकायािण िनःि पेत ।् तेन साध िविनि ् 35
ततः कम समारभेत ॥

The king should seek advice from the Brahmin who is the most accomplished in the six
qualities among the ministers. He should entrust that Brahmin with all responsibilities
and should always undertake an action with his advice.

In describing the qualities of a king Candesvara says that someone does not have to have

experience in looking after the kingdom and its inhabitants because that is the duty of a king.

The implication is that an individual learns to do these things once he actually assumes the

Rājanīti-ratnākara, pt. 2: अमा ं िवना राजका न िन हती[ित] [...] (Jayaswal, Rājanīti-Ratnākara by Chaṇḍeś-
vara, 10).
Rājanīti-ratnākara, pt. 2: मौला ा िवदः शूरान ल ् ल ान क ् ु लो तान ।् सिचवान स
् चा ौ वा कुव त परीि तान ॥
् Can-
् ु ् ु ् ु ्
desvara then offers the following gloss: मौलान कलसेवकान कलो तान कलीनान ॥ (ibid.).
Rājanīti-ratnākara pt. 2. (ibid.).

role of a king. However, Candevara agrees with the traditional idea put forth by Manu that a

king’s ministers should be experienced with the duties of rule, and moreover, they are to be

Brahmins. Although the Rājanīti-ratnākara is a prescriptive text, like the Manu Smr̥ti and

Yājñavalkya Smr̥ti, the fact that it was written during the 14th century when Hindu notions

of kingship and rule were being thoroughly tested, shows that the Brahmin kings of Tirhut

may actually have tried to implement some of these considerations. Another notion that

emerges from an analysis of the development of brahminical kingship in medieval Mithila

and the available textual sources is that Tirhut during this time was conceived of in the

minds of its scholars as a Brahmin state. This state was ruled by a Brahmin king with a

court of Brahmin ministers, who negotiated with Muslim emperors, governors, and other

functionaries in order to maintain the conceptual connections of community, territory, and

society of the Maithil Brahmins.

4.3 The Second Phase of Brahminical Rule

The history of the Oinivara dynasty of Tirhut as it appears in normative histories and the

majority of secondary sources describes its origins with Kameshvar Thakur and its demise

with Lakshiminatha or ‘Kansanarayana’. However, it appears that experience of the Oini

mūla with rulership was somewhat broader. The pañjī records preserve the history of an-

other branch of the Oinivaras descending from Kameshvar’s younger brother Salakhan (see

figure 4.3):

ु अित पः ए सतो
[...] ओइनाहः ओइिन ामोपायकः । ए सतो ु गोिव ः ए सतः
ु ल नः ए सता
ु राज
ु िशवाई भ गओनो लािह
पि डत कामे र रामे र हिर र ि परेु तेवाडी सलखन गोढीकाः सलखन सतो

ु कुमर भाकर ि कर सधाकराः
सं िशव दौ । िशवाइ सता ु ु राज
भ डिरसम सं वंिशधर दौ । भाकर सतो
र ाकरः िनखूित सं का ु कुमर मितकर बिु कर हिरकर लाखूकाः िदघो सं गौरी
दौ । राज र कर सता
दौ । कुमर मितकर सता ु ु िसंह राजा हिरिसंह
ु माधविसमःअ मक ु
ु सं नोने दौ । राज हिरिसंह सतो
राज रामच ः जालय सं र पािन दौ । राज रामच ु राज ताप नारायण पदाि त जगिदश कुमर
ु महारज िकितनारयण बेलउँच सं परमान
खगिसंहो सिरसब सं जसाइ दौ । राज ताप नारायण सतो
ु महराजा
दौ पाली सं लि नाथ ौ । माहाराज िकितनारायण सता नारयण स ीय कुमर मा ात
कुमर िशव बाबू कुमर लभिस ाः पीरापरु अ ािर सं हिरनाथ सतु अ तु दौ जालय सं श र ौ । [...]
महाराज ु लि नारायण कुमर देवनारायणो ज की सं राय हेमनारायण दौ [...] महाराज
नारायण सतो
ु महाराज
लि नारायण सता पनारायण कुमर ् जनारायण कुमर नरनारायण कुमर ऐिनपालनारायण
ु महराज फते ारायन बाब ु जगतनारायण बाब ु कुआ
[...] कमहा सं राम दौ [...] महराज पनारायण सता
िस म लनारायण कमहा सं कमलनयन सतु िकसू दौ [...]36

Oināha is the founder of the Oini grāma. His son is Atirūpa. The son of Atirūpa
is Govinda, whose son is Lakṣmaṇa. The sons of Lakṣmaṇa are the rāja paṇḍita
Kāmeśvara, Rāmeśvara, Hariśvara, Tripure, Tevāḍi, Salakhana, and Goḍhi. The son
of Salakhana is Śivaī, who married the daughter of Śiva of Lāhi-Bhaṭṭagāon mūla-
grāma. Śivaī’s son is kumāra Prabhākara, Śrīkara, Sudhākara; Prabhākara married
the daughter of Vaṃśidhara of Bhaṇḍarisama mūla. The son of Prabhākara is rāja
Ratnākara, who married the daughter of Kānha of Nikhuti mūla. The sons of Rat-
nākara are the kumāra Matikara, Buddhikara, Harikar and Lakhuka; Matikara mar-
ried the daughter of Gaurī of Digho mūla. The sons of kumāra Matikara are Mād-
havasiṃha, Mukundasiṃha, rāja Harisiṃha; Harisiṃha married the daughter of None
of Brahmapura mūla. The son of rāja Harisiṃha is rāja Rāmacandra, who married
the daughter of Ratnāpāṇi of Jalaya mūla. The sons of rāja Rāmacandra are rāja
Pratāpanārāyaṇa and padāṅkita jagadīśa kumāra Khagasiṃha; Pratapanārāyaṇa mar-
ried the daughter of Jasāi of Sarisaba mūla. The son of rāja Pratāpanārāyaṇa is ma-
hārāja Kirtinārāyaṇa, who married the daughter of Paramānanda of Belauñca mūla,
who is the daughter of the daughter of Laksminatha of Palī mūla. The sons of ma-
hārāja Kīrtinārāyaṇa are mahārāja Rudranārāyaṇa, kumāra Māndhāta, kumāra Śiva,
and bābū kumāra Durlabhasiṃha. Rudranārāyaṇa married the daughter of Harinātha’s
son Acyuta of Allāri-Pirapura mūla grāma, who is also the daughter’s daughter of
Śaṅkara of Jālaya mūla. The sons of mahārāja Rudranārāyaṇa are Lakṣmīnārāyaṇa
and kumāra Devanārāyaṇa. Lakṣmīnārāyaṇa married the daugher of Hemanārāyaṇa
of Jallakī mūla. The sons of mahārāja Lakṣmīnārāyaṇa are mahārāja Rūpanārāyaṇa,
kumāra Brajanārāyaṇa, kumāra Naranārāyaṇa, and kumāra Ainipālanārāyaṇa. Rū-
panārāyaṇa married the daughter of Rāma of Karmahā mūla. The sons of mahārāja
Rūpanārāyaṇa are mahārāja Phatenārāyaṇa, bābū Jagatnārāyaṇa, bābū Kuā who is
known as Maṅgalanārāyaṇa. Rūpanārāyaṇa married the daughter of Kisu, who is the
son of Kamalanayana of Karmahā mūla. [...]

Mūla Pañjī written by Pañjīkara Paṇḍita Modanānda Jhā, folio 138.

The above record shows that Kameshvara Thakur’s younger brother Salakhana was also

appointed the ruler of some part of north Bihar. Although not generally mentioned in his-

tories of medieval Bihar, the pañjī record suggested that the Oini sub-lineage of Salakhana

grew to be quite respected and that it outlived that of Kameshvar Thakur. The pañjī does

not provide any information on where they actually ruled. The genealogy indicates that

Salakhana’s grandson Prabhakara possessed the title of kumāra ‘prince’, which implies

that Salakhana’s son Sivai was also given a ruling title, although that information has not

been preserved. The influence of the family grew steadily from the time of Prabhakara,

as his son Ratnakara is recognized as a rāja, and after some generations, his descendant

Kirtinarayana is given the title of mahārāja. That title passes down for at least six genera-

tions to Sridharanarayana. Despite outlasting their kin in Tirhut, these Oinivaras descended

from Salakhana were never able to gain larger prominence in north Bihar. The Oini mūla

may have had multiple ruling lineages, but the rulership of Tirhut passed into the hands of

another Maithil Brahmin lineage.

The second phase of brahminical rule in Tirhut begins with the Khandavala dynasty,

whose first ruler was Mahesa Thakkura. This Brahmin ruler was originally the raja pan-

dita of the king of Bastar in central India. He is the same Mahesa Thakkura whose passages

from the Dayasara on sapiṇḍa and the ten-fold classification of Brahmins were discussed

in Chapters 1 and 2. Mahesa Thakkura’s ancestor Saṅkarṣaṇa Ṭhakkura was a scholar from

the Gaṅgaulī mūla, who through his service as rāja paṇḍita of the king of Bastar, received

the grant of the village Khandava. Mahesa Thakkura belonged to the Khandavala mūla of

Maithil Brahmins. There are several legends associated with Mahesa Thakkura (hereafter,

Mahesh Thakur) and the beginning of Khandavala ruler. These legends all claim that Ma-

hesh Thakur went to Delhi and was given an appointment by the Mughal emperor Akbar.37

The legends state that Mahesh Thakur succeeded in impressing Akbar with his erudition.

In return, Akbar is said to have given Mahesh Thakur either the rajai or rulership of the

entire sarkar of Tirhut, or at the least the appointments of caudharai and qanungoi, or rev-

enue collector and legal officer, of Tirhut.38 Despite the absence of a farman or any formal

decree, Jata Shankar Jha firmly holds that Mahesh Thakur was given some sort of an ap-

pointment by Akbar and that the appointment was acquired “by impressing the emperor

with his intellectual attainments”.39

The insistence upon Mahesh Thakur receiving an appointment from Akbar is based upon

the farman granted to his son, Gopala Thakkura (hereafter, Gopal Thakur). This farman is

a reinstatement of the appointments of caudharai and qanungoi to Gopal Thakur, which

implies that the positions were held by his father.40 The farman states that the caudharai

and qanungoi of the entire sarkar Tirhut “according to ancient custom”41 or “as of old”42 be

entrusted with Gopal Thakur. The appointment appears to have been passed onto Gopal be-

cause he had suppressed a revolt by Bharatajatiya or Paramara Rajputs in western Tirhut.43

Gopala retired from his appointments in 1581 and was replaced by his brother Paramananda

For discussions and analyses of the legends see Jha, “History of Raj Darbhanga,” 14–25 and Choudary,
History of Khandavala, 13–35.
Jha, “History of Raj Darbhanga,” 25.
Ibid., 26.
Ibid., 19–20.
Choudary, History of Khandavala, 46.
Jha, “History of Raj Darbhanga,” 19.
Singh, History of Tirhut, 216; Jha, “History of Raj Darbhanga,” 26.

Thakkura (Parmanand Thakur); however, the latter renounced the positions shortly after

and passed them onto their younger brother Subhankara Thakkura (hereafter, Subhankar

Thakur). The trend of short-lived or renunciation of the hereditary appointments was car-

ried on by Subhankar, who passed the posts into his son Purusottama Thakkura (Purushot-

tam Thakur). A farman dated to 1641 ëí grants the appointments to Purushottam’s half-

brother Narayana Thakkura (Narayan Thakur), who was succeeded by his brother Sundara

Thakkura (Sundar Thakur).44 The tenures of these Khandavala caudhari-s and qanungo-s

were rather uneventful and it seems that these Brahmins did not maintain much interest in

the positions apart from the revenue or land that they received for their service.

Some enthusiasm for rule begins first with Mahinatha Thakkura (Mahinath Thakur), the

son and successor of Sundar Thakur. Jata Shankar Jha writes that “[i]t was in his time that

the family, due to enormous royal favours, came to possess all the dignity of a big estate.”45

When Mahinath was appointed as caudhari, he was called to duty in 1661 by the Mughal

faujdar of Darbhanga, Mirza Khan to assist in military activity in the regions of Morang and

Palamau, in north-eastern and eastern Bihar, respectively. Mahinath proved himself quite

immensely. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb instructed the governor of Bihar, Lashkar

Khan, to bestow land and other titles upon Mahinath. A portion of the farman states:

Since this Hindu Brahmin has displayed such valour, I have by an exalted farman,
granted him the Sadr Zamindari and settlement of Sarkar Tirhut, and Zamindari of
Pargana Dharampur, Sarkar Monghyr, and conferred upon him a Khilat and the Mahi
Maratib. The valiant Khan too should bestow some consideration upon him which may
honor him in the eyes of his neighbours, and send him a letter of approbation assuring

Jha, “History of Raj Darbhanga,” 29.
Ibid., 31.

him of the permanent enjoyment of the zamindari so that other subordinates may be
spurred to similar good services.46

In addition to receiving a khilat (royal robe), and permission to use the mahi maratib (royal

piscene insignia), Mahinath received grants of land that vastly extended the territory of the

Khandavala family. He was granted the entirety of sarkar Tirhut including the terai region

of Nepal, which consisted of one-hundred and two paragana-s; the paragana of Dharampur

in sarkar Monghyr, and five paragana-s in sarkar Purnea and two paragana-s in sarkar

Tajpur.47 Mahinath also developed a system of succession to the estate that would prevent

its division among heirs. As he had no male heir, he named his brother Narapati Thakkura

(Narpati Thakur) as his successor. In 1690, Mahinath’s brother Narpati Thakur begins rule

in an official capacity as a recognized ruler of Tirhut. Aurangzeb seemed to be pleased

with Narpati’s service alongside Mahinath, for in the farman he wrote “Mahinath Thakur

and his brother Narapati Thakur having displayed the prowess of their swordsmanship gave

a thorough beating to that ill-fated one (Raja of Morang).”48

The authority of the Khandavala rulers continued to grow after Mahinath received true

rulership of Tirhut. By the time his brother Narpati assumed control of Tirhut, he had

already grown old, so he retired to Varanasi and executed a will naming his son Raghava

Thakkura (Raghav Thakur) as his successor.49 Raghava took control of the zamindari in

1701, but two decades later his fortunes greater increased. In 1720, Alivardi Khan conferred

Choudary, History of Khandavala, 58.
Jha, “History of Raj Darbhanga,” 31.
Ibid., 35.

upon Raghava Thakkura the title of raja.50 In recognition of the new title, Raghava changed

the family title from Thakkura to Simha (Singh). With the title, however, came difficulties.

His adversaries staked claimed to the paragana-s that were granted to his ancestor Mahinath

by Aurangzeb. The raja deployed his military and recovered his properties. Raghav Singh

named his son Visnu Simha (Vishnu Singh) as his successor, but the next raja expired four

years into his reign in 1743.51 Vishnu Singh was replaced by his brother Narendra Simha

(Narendra Singh), who held the same ambitions of his father. Narendra Singh was known

as the “warrior prince” as he carried out numerous expeditions on behalf of the Mughal

government, as well as upon his own accord. Narendra Singh was at once time charged

by Raja Ram Narayana, the subehdar of Bihar, for avoidance of revenue payments.52 This

led to a confrontation in which Narendra Singh killed Ram Narayana, who was a Bhumihar

Brahmin. Narendra Singh died without a male heir in 1760, but before his death he had

adopted a son of his uncle Ekanatha Thakkura.53 This adopted son, Pratapa Simha (Pratap

Singh), became the next raja of Tirhuta.

It was during the time of Pratap Singh that Khandavala authority in Tirhut experienced

some major changes. First, Pratap Singh moved the administration from the village of

Bhaura to Darbhanga. Secondly, during his tenture he encountered the beginnings of British

rule. The East India Company was granted the diwani, or the right of revenue collection, of

Bihar, Bengal, and Orissa by the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II in 1765. Pratap Singh was

Jha, “History of Raj Darbhanga,” 35.
Ibid., 43.

forced to continue the military activities that had preoccupied his forebearers. The raja was

called upon by British authorities to defend his northern territories against the ambitions

of the Gurkha ruler Prithvinarayana Shah.54 But, troubles of a different nature regarding

the sarkar of Tirhut began stirring. Pratap Singh had amassed some debts and the British

authorities had ceased to pay his allowance until the accounts were settled.55 The financial

conditions of the estate, however, continued to deteriorate. Pratap Singh passed away in

1775. The British authorities contacted Madhava Simha (Madhav Singh), the half-brother

of the raja, in order to convince him to take up management of the estate.

Madhav Singh’s experiences with the British were not positive, but they were momen-

tous for the future of Khandavala rule in Tirhut. From the outset, Madhav Singh’s manage-

ment of Tirhut was plagued with adminstrative hurdles regarding land and finances. Other

members of Pratap Singh’s family petitioned for greater monetary allowances, the creditors

of former raja continued to demand repayment, and use of force was also used by the British

to resolve a misunderstanding regarding rights to territorial possessions and payment of rev-

enues.56 At some time during the rule of Madhav Singh, the British had considered settling

the sarkar of Tirhut in perpetuity with Madhav Singh, but that decision was not formal-

ized. Jata Shankar Jha has summed up Madhav Singh’s experience in the following words:

“Only two generations before Raja Narendra Singh could defy the authority of the Deputy

Governor of Bihar with impunity” because the “Rajas of Darbhanga had for all practical

Jha, “History of Raj Darbhanga,” 44.
Ibid., 48–51.

purposes come to be regarded as the master of the whole Sarkar of Tirhut.”57 Moreover,

“[t]hey had acquired a number of privileges either on the basis of some imperial farmans or

by the right of might.”58 The basis of the difficulties in the relationship between the British

and Madhav Singh is that “[t]he new government was not prepared to recognise his former

status and the Raja was not willing to content himself with the role assigned to him”.59 By

this time the Khandavala holdings had come to be known as the ‘estate of Darbhanga’, after

the city to which the administration was moved.

By the time Madhav Singh passed away in 1807, the proprietary rights to the sarkar of

Tirhut granted by Aurangzeb to Mahinath had been diminished to a zamindari. Although

the Khandavala rulers retained the title of raja, its usage was only customary as their true

position was that of zamindar. Madhav Singh was succeeded by hia son Ksatra Simha

(Chatra Singh) in 1807. The start of the Anglo-Nepalese War in 1812 gave Chatra Singh

a chance to prove his worth to the British. In 1815, the British thanked him for services

rendered during the campaign by conferring upon him the title of ‘Maharaja Bahadhur’.

The newly minted Maharaja Bahadhur Chatra Singh took additional steps to secure the

Darbhanga estate. He resolved old feuds with the Bettiah Raj family and he began to make

investment in various European and Indian enterprises.60 When he died in 1839, he handed

over a renewed Darbhanga to his son Rudra Simha (Rudra Singh)

Jha, “History of Raj Darbhanga,” 61.
Ibid., 62.
Ibid., 66–67.

Maharaja Rudra Singh further stablized the Darbhanga estate. He strengthened the

holdings of the royal Khandavala lineage from the ambitions of kinsmens by petitioning

the Privy Council to declare a law of inheritance for the Maharajas of Darbhanga. The law

specified that the eldest son would succeed to the throne and other sons would receive prop-

erty for their maintenance.61 Additionally, Rudra Singh made significant donations for the

expansion of Hindu and Western education in Tirhut. His eleven-year reign, although short,

ameliorated the Khandavala family in the eyes of the British. Rudra Singh was succeeded

by his son Mahesvara Simha (Maheshwar Singh) in 1851. His reign was short and ill-fated.

Six years after becoming ‘Maharaja’, the conflicts of 1857 arose. Moreover, while Mah-

esvara’s predecessors did much to set Darbhanga upon stable ground, during his reign the

estate was once again faced with financial problems. By the time he passed away in 1860,

Darbhanga was once again in heavy debt. Moreover, his successors were minors and the

estate was taken over by the Court of Wards.62

At the time of Maheshwar’s death and when Darbhanga was placed under the man-

agement of the Court of Ward, the Maharaja’s two sons, Laksmisvara (also Lakshimshwar

and Luchmeshwar) and Ramesvara (Rameshwar) were only two and one year of age, re-

spectively. The future of the Khandavala dynasty was now completely in the hands of the

British. Under the Court of Wards, the British undertook the responsibility of rehabilitat-

ing the entire estate. Additionally, they saw to it that the heir, Lakshishwar, and his brother

Rameshwar were given ample time for both Western and traditional brahminical education.

Jha, “History of Raj Darbhanga,” 70.
Ibid., 75.

“The Maharajah had been trained to manage his own affairs and to take a lively interest in

the welfare of his people, while his brother had been deemed fit for appointment to the

Civil Service of the province, in which he is now an Assistant Magistrate.”63 By the time

Lakshmishwar Singh had taken charge of his estate, he had already gained a fair amount

of experience in management as well has taken a personal interest in the development of

his ancestral holdings. Lakshmishwar had a hospital for women constructed in Darbhanga,

subsidized the establishment of both Western and Sanskrit schools, and gave funds to the

University of Calcutta, as well as to schools in England.64 He was nominated to the Leg-

islative Council of Bengal in 1883 and had given substantial funds to help start the Indian

National Congress in 1885. It is beyond the scope of the present discussion to enumerate

and describe the various additional activities of Lakshmishwar Singh. The brief description

of his accomplishments that is given above is intended simply to convey the range of inter-

ests that captured the Maharaja’s attention. He passed away in 1898 without a male heir.

The zamindari of Darbhanga passed onto his brother, Rameshwar Singh.

Maharaja Rameshwar Singh was as motivated as his brother in expanding the promi-

nence of Raj Darbhanga. The British conferred upon him various honors, including the

hereditary title of ‘Maharajadhiraja’. He was nominated to the Legislative Council of Ben-

gal and he donated funds to the British during World War II.65 When Bihar was separated

from Bengal and established as a separate province in 1912, Rameshwar Singh was ap-

Jha, “History of Raj Darbhanga,” 77.
Ibid., 87.
Ibid., 92.

pointed to the Executive Council of the Lieutenant Governor.66 Yet, while his brother had

expressed interest in Western modernity, Rameshwar Singh turned his attention towards

the rejuventation of traditional culture for a modern age. He contributed funds for the es-

tablishment of Benares Hindu University in 1905.67 He presided over the All-India Hindu

Religious Sammelan in 1915 and was inducted as the lifetime president of the Sanatana

Dharma Mahamandal.68 He also assisted in the founding of the Bihar Landowners Associ-

ation, of which he remained the lifetime president.69 When Rameshwar Singh passed away

in 1929, his eldest son Kamesvara Simha (Kameshwar Singh) accended the throne as Ma-

haraja of Darbhanga.

Kameshwar Singh was twenty-two years of age when he became the Maharaja of Darb-

hanga. He maintained a balance of the Western-oriented and traditional interests of his

uncle and father. Kameshwar donated extensively to Benares Hindu University, as well as

to Patna University, and he established a new university in Darbhanga, as well as a Mithila

Research Institute, which was dedicated to the study of Sanskrit.70 He maintained a favor-

able position regarding British rule in India and was invited to the Round Table Conference

in London in 1930, but maintain an objective position regarding the future of India within

the British empire. Yet, during the Quit India movement, the Maharaja refused to comply

with the government’s orders regarding provisions for suppressing uprisings within Bihar.71

As the controller of a vast territory, it is not surprising that he expressed concerns regard-
Jha, “History of Raj Darbhanga,” 92.
Ibid., 93.
Ibid., 102.

ing the abolition of zamindari and land reform. He had rebuilt much of Darbhanga and

various cities across north Bihar after a massive earthquake in 1934. He continued such

developments even after the earthquake in an attempt to provide the region with modern

infrastructure. During his rule India gained independence and after 1947, the Maharaja of

Darbhanga became an ordinary citizen. As Darbhanga was never permanently settled with

Madhav Singh in the 18th century and the Khandavala rulers that followed never succeeded

in receiving the status of ruling chief from the British, Raj Darbhanga was incorporated into

the state of Bihar at Independence.

4.4 Brahmin Kings and Brahminical Society

The Brahmin-kings of Mithila, especially those appointed to rule over Tirhut paid attention

not only to their relationships with external authorities, but also worked to advance the

interests of their caste. An analysis of the pañjī records shows that throughout the time

period discussed in this chapter, the Maithil Brahmins continued to abide by the regulations

of pañjī prabandha. As the pañjī records continued to grow and the number of Brahmins

seeking marriages continued to increase as well, the Khandavala rulers began to patronize

an annual event called sabha gacchi “garden meeting”, where families would gather in order

to meet the genealogists for arranging marriages. Maharaja Rameshwar Singh described the

meeting in his own words as:

In order to facilitate the marriage of the Maithil Brahmans, periodical meetings (Sab-
has) attended by authorized genealogists are held during the Shuddha (sacred days)
at different centres such as the villages Saurath, Partapur, Sajhuar, Bhakhrail, Sa-
hasaula, Bangaon and Govindpur-Harrahi of the Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur, Bhagalpur
and Purnea districts, respectively, where thousands and thousands of Maithil Brahmans

flock and such of them as wish to marry consult the genealogical registers and having
obtained the Aswajan Patra from the Panjiars, proceed to the dwelling houses of the
bridal party and have the marriage performed in accordance with the Shastras and the
Maithil customs. It is impossible for all the Maithil Brahmans who are several lakhs
in number, to get the services of the genealogists who form a very limited class at their
homes and it is possible to get them only at large gatherings where they have all their
ancient records at hand.72

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4.5 The End of Brahmin Rule

The Oinivaras and Khandavalas ruled Tirhut for nearly six centuries. Despite the nature

of their ‘rulership’, the ability of these lineages to maintain power speaks equally to their

status as high-ranking Brahmins as well as to their ability to negotiate with various author-

ities from the Delhi Sultante, Mughal, and British periods. The intent of this chapter is to

show how the residual territories of the Karnata kingdom were maintained by the Brahmins

whose lineages were anchored to Mithila as a consequence of pañjī prabandha. Although

the Karnatas were ousted, the Brahmins who served that Kshatriya dynasty managed to

maintain their hereditary association with state authority. The Visaphi lineage, which had

already provided two centuries of ministerial service to the Karnatas, was able to maintain

its position by serving the Oinivara dynasty, as demonstrated by Candesvara’s connection

to various Oini kings. The Oinivara dynasty, despite its precarious hold on power at the rise

of each new ruler, somehow managed to convince various Muslim Sultans and subordinate

regional rulers of their ability to control Tirhut. The Mughals placed the Khandavalas in

charge of north Bihar and conferred the first true ‘kingship’ upon a Brahmin ruler. Although
Rameshwar Singh, “Maithil Marriage,” 541. The term ‘panjiara’ is a colloquial form of ‘pañjīkāra’.

the British did not recognize this title by conferring upon the Khandavala kings the status

of ruling chief, they recognized the importance of these Brahmins and bestowed upon them

nominal, yet hereditary titles of ‘Maharaja’, ‘Maharaja Bahadur’, and ‘Maharajadhiraja’.

Catherine Asher and Cynthia Talbot write that after the expansion of Turkic power in

northern India, one group of several native Indians that were affected by the imposition of

Sultanate rule where “ritual specialists like Brahmins, Hindu temple priests, Jain monks,

and sectarian leaders”:

Though not actively persecuted, they were dependent on the patronage of kings, chiefs,
and other local magnates and the amount of financial support available to them declined
notably with the elimination of the indigenous ruling elite. Learned Brahmins and Jains
had also often served as ministers and counselors in the courts of indigenous kinds, and
opportunity that similarly diminished during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
However, the influence of some Hindu and Jain groups apparently reemerged as they
began to serve as money lenders and bankers to royal houses, both Muslim and non-

The nature of caste and kingship in Mithila during Sultanate and Mughal rule seems to

deviate from the general case described above. The Brahmin of Mithila did not simply

‘reemerge’ in positions of prominence nor did their opportunities diminish under Sultanate

and Mughal rule. They rose to the position of the indigneous ruling elite, which had been


Just as the Brahmin kings of Mithila forced an internalization of the Brahmin-Kshatriya

relationship within the varṇa with regard to marriage and kinship, they also established a

new perspective on this relationship with regard to their external authority. The Brahmin

king was still dependent upon the imperial ruler, whether this ruler was a Hindu Kshatriya

Asher and Talbot, India Before Europe, 46–47.

or a Muslim Sultan. The Brahmin received the right to rule from the ruler, even if the ruler

was a non-Hindu.









Kameshvara Harshana Tripura Tevadi Salakhana Gauda

(see fig. 4.2) (see fig. 4.3)

Figure 4.1: The Oini lineage.

Kameshvar Thakur (1)
(see fig. 4.1)

Bhogishvar (2) Bhavasimha (5)

Ganeshvar (3) Devasimha (6) Harisimha (11)

Virasimha Kirtisimha (4) Sivasimha (7) Padmasimha (9) Narasimha (12)

= Lakhimadevi (8) = Visvasadevi (10) (‘Darpa°’)

Dhirasimha (13) Bhairavasimha (14)

(‘Hrdaya°’) (‘Hari°’)

Raghavasimha Ramabhadrasimha (15)


Lakshminathasimha (16)

Figure 4.2: The rulers of the Oinivara dynasty of Tirhut (c. 1353–1532). The abbreviation
symbol ° after a name refers to the suffix ‘-narayana’, eg. Darpa° is Darpa-narayana.

(see fig. 4.1)

Sivai (1)

Prabhakara (2)

Ratnakara (3)

Matikara (4) Srikara Sudhakara

Madhavasimha Mukundasimha Harisimha (5)

Ramacandra (6)

Pratapa° Kirti° (7)

Rudra° (8) Mandhata Siva Durlabhasimha

Laksmi° (9) Deva°

Rupa° (10) Braja° Nara° Ainipala°

Phateha° (11) Jaga° Mangala°

Giridhara° (12)

Sridhara° (13)

Figure 4.3: The rulers of the Oinivara dynasty of Champaran. The abbreviation symbol °
after a name refers to the suffix ‘-narayana’, eg. Pratapa° is Pratapa-narayana.

Mahesh Thakur (1)

Gopala (2) Paramananda (3) Subhankara (4)

Purushottama (5) Narayana (6) Sundara (7)

Mahinatha (8) Narapati (9)

Raghava (10)

Vishnu (11) Narendra (11)

Pratapa (12) Madhava (13)

Chhatra (14)

Rudra (15)

Maheshvara (16)

Lakshmiswara (17) Rameshwara (18)

Kameshwara (19)

Figure 4.4: The rulers of the Khandavala dynasty of Tirhut (c. 1557–1962).

Chapter 5

The ‘Conundrum’ of Brahmin Identity

The legends about the origins of pañjī prabandha and the rank system offer a cultural un-

derstanding of the origins of the social organization, structure, and marriage practices that

define the Maithil Brahmin community. They also offer insight into the the community’s

conceptions of the deeper structure of society and its proper regulation. The first narrative

tells of a Brahmin whose marriage is discovered to be illegitimate. The genealogical in-

vestigation found that other Brahmins also had arranged marriages without proper attention

to the regulations against consanguinity. These discoveries threw the Brahmin community

into a crisis as several eminent individuals were found to be unpure. The second story ex-

plains how the best Brahmins of the kingdom distinguished themselves according to their

individual merit. Those who were Shrotriyas, the most learned of Brahmins, distinguished

themselves from their fellow caste members by arriving at the assembly after having per-

formed all of the obligatory rituals and proper study of the sacred texts. On the surface it

appears that these legends are about the Brahmin. A closer reading, however, suggests that

the main, if not equal, protagonist is the actor that appears at the end of the narratives in

order to restore order to the community or to confer recognition upon Brahmins. It is the


The importance of the king in these legends and his role in the ordering of brahminical

society evokes the classical Indian view that maintaining the proper order of society through

regulation of dharma is a fundamental duty of the king.1 The Brahmin is responsible for

propagating dharma and the king is responsible for upholding it. When the Brahmin com-

munity is in disarray, the king restores order to it. The regulation of marriage practices in

order to ensure the proper function of castes when necessary is but one of his several obliga-

tions, especially when Brahmins are in danger. After all, it was Brahmins, who, “for fear of

sinning themselves, entrusted the kṣatriyas with the duty of ruling and protecting the earth

and its inhabitants”.2 Maharaja Harisimhadeva fulfilled his duty as a Kshatriya when he

established an formal genealogical system for regulating the marriage practices and status

hierarchies of Brahmins in order to preserve their purity and virtue. He preserved dharma

by ensuring that the Brahmins responsible for transmitting it were abiding by their own


But, what happens to the socio-political order when the kṣatriya is removed from the

archetypical relationship between Brahmin and king? Who, then, is responsible for the

maintenance of dharma? Who is responsible for the proper functioning of the Brahmins?

These hypothetical questions became all too real for the Maithil Brahmins when their polit-

Collins, “The Origins of the Brahman-King Relationship in Indian Social Thought”; Gonda, Ancient
Indian Kingship; Heesterman, “Power, Priesthood, and Authority”; Basham, “Ideas of Kingship in Hinduism
and Buddhism.”
Gonda, Ancient Indian Kingship, 63.

ical order was shaken by temporal circumstances. Surely, Harisimhadeva did not anticipate

how a Brahmin king might disrupt the lineage and status systems of the genealogy he estab-

lished. Nonetheless, the very insertion of the Brahmin king into this genealogy transformed

the nature of the system. What was initially an institution patronized and administered by a

Kshatriya king for the preservation of Brahmins had evolved into an instrument used by a

particular Brahmin lineage for preserving its status as functional Kshatriyas and high-status

Brahmins within the Maithil Brahmin community.

Why would the presence of a Brahmin king disrupt the very nature and purpose of brahi-

minical geneology and cause a rupture in the social order of this community? Moreover,

what happens to a brahminical community when a member of that society acquires the

power to regulate it? The previous chapter describes the formation of the Maithil Brahmin

community as an endogamous, territorial, ethnic nation based upon lineage and kinship,

which was patronized by the state. This chapter describes the effect of the panji system on

the expansion of brahminical identity by focusing on the role of the king in controlling the

brahmin community.

By analyzing the genealogy system of Harisimhadeva and the manner in which it gov-

erned the marriage practices of Brahmins, I demonstrate in this chapter that the rise of a

king from the midst of the Brahmin community converted the institutions of brahminical

practices of genealogy and marriage into an instrument of political control that further in-

tensified the cohesion of the Brahmin community, but through processes of fracture and

reassumption. Harisimhadeva intended to protect the dharma of the Brahmin community

through the careful and consistent recording of genealogies. But, with the emergence of

a ruler from within the Brahmin community, the genealogy system now had to contend

with a dual and conflicting agenda. On the one hand, it preserved the dharma of Brahmins

and on the other it promoted the artha ‘prosperity’ of the king, which was now tied to the

dharma of his Brahmin kinsmen. The Brahmin king complicated the genealogy system be-

cause he was not only regulated by the official genealogies, but he was also responsible for

regulating them. The Brahmin kings of Mithila exercised their regulatory authority over

genealogy and the approval of marriages in order to control the kingship and the structure

of the brahminical community in two significant ways. First, they used manipulated the

lineage ranking structure of the pañjī system and the right to authorize marriage in order to

ensure the political dominance of the royal lineage. Second, the Brahmin kings intervened

in the genealogical system in order to maintain their social dominance over the Shrotriyas,

the highest sub-caste of the Maithil Brahmins, and their own position within the Shrotriya

community. These inventions resulted in the creation of additional pañjī records, social cat-

egories, and marriage rules. These resulted in the expansion of the ideology of the Maithil

Brahmin jati, which by the time of Kameshwara Thakur, was on its way to developing a

state structure based upon Brahmins for the upkeep of Brahmins.

5.1 The Tension Between King and Brahmin

A passage from Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad articulates that “Nothing transcends the kṣatra;

therefore, the brahmin sits below the kṣatriya at the royal consecration. But, the brahmin

is the womb of the kṣatra; therefore, although he attains the highest status; he finally rests

upon the brāhma, who is his own womb”.3 This statement encapsulates the primeval tension

in classical Indian political philosophy between the ‘temporal power’ of kṣatra and the

‘spiritual authority’ of brāhma. It is an attempt to address the equally ancient question

of who is superior, the Kshatriya or the Brahmin? The question, ultimately, is a paradox

for it operates within the domain of dāna, or the relationship of ‘exchange’ between the

king and the Brahmin, in which both of these selves are simultaneously dependent upon the

other, as well as mutually subject to the other. For Ananda Coomaraswamy this paradox

“subsumes the whole of Indian political theory”, while for Thomas Trautmann it is “the

central conundrum of Indian social ideology”. But, what might become of the ‘conundrum’

when kṣatra and brāhma are embodied within a single self?

The accension of a Brahmin to the throne of his former Kshatriya patron may appear

to resolve what Thomas Trautmann has described as “the central conundrum of Indian

social ideology.”4 This ‘conundrum’ springs from the tension between spiritual authority

(brahma) and temporal power (kṣatra) that is embodied in the relationship between Brahmin

and Kshatriya in classical Indian political philosophy. It may appear that the appointment

by the Kameshwar Thakur as ruler of Mithila by the Delhi Sultan had the effect of uniting

spiritual power and temporal authority, which would enable the Brahmin king to adjudi-

cate both the socio-political and religious orders without the complications inherent in the

Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.4.11: वा इदम े आसीदेकमेव । तदेक स भवत ।् त े यो पम सृजत ं । या ते ािन
देव ा ाणी ो व णः सोमो ः पज ो यमो मृ रीशान ु इित । त ात ् ा रं नाि । त ा ा णः ि यमध ा पा े राजसूय े ।
एव त शो दधाित । स ैषा योिनय । त ा िप राजा परमतां ग ित ैवा त उपिन यित ां योिनं । य उ एव िहनि ांस
योिनमृ ित स पापीयान भ ् वित यथो ये ा स िह िस ा । (Vasu, Brihadaranyaka Upanisad, 90–91).
Trautmann, Dravidian Kinship, 285.

traditional Brahmin-king relationship. The reality, however, was quite the opposite. The

codification of Brahmin genealogy and the regulatory authority granted to the royal office

by Harisimhadeva for the purpose of preserving the dharma of Brahmins now had to ac-

commodate the dual dharma of the Brahmin king, whose status and purity was linked to his

fellow caste members by both his presence in the genealogical record and his regulation of

the record. Therefore, rather than equalize the tension of the relationship between brahma

and kṣatra, the brahminical kingship simply shifted the locus of tension from the inter-

caste level to the intra-caste domain. The internalization of the tension between brahma

and kṣatra within the office of the Brahmin-king offers a new perspective on Trautmann’s

‘conundrum’, through which the question of which is superior is further complicated by the

forcing of kinship into the domain of exchange.

The case of the Shrotriya Brahmin-king offers us another perspective from which to

view the paradox postulated in the passage from the Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, which sig-

nifies the mutual dependence of brahma and kṣatra. The profane order within which tem-

poral power operates originates from the spiritual authority that structures the sacred order.

The temporal power of the king is legitimated by the Brahmin through ritual. The Brahmin,

however, strives to distance himself from the mundane world, but is the sole possessor of the

authority to consecrate royal power. In this way, contrary to his aspirations, the Brahmin’s

order is bound to that of the king. He is responsible for bringing dharma from the sacred or-

der into the profane, while it is the duty of the king to maintain and protect dharma. Without

the king, order devolves into chaos; without the Brahmin, chaos infiltrates the order.

This mutual dependence of the spiritual and temporal orders is reinforced in the ‘conun-

drum’ through the domain of exchange, or dāna ‘gift’. The Brahmin’s spiritual authority is

contingent upon his independence from the material world and from the king, but the Brah-

min’s authority is challenged by his practical dependence upon the king for his subsistence.

This dependence is manifested through the gifts that he receives from the king. The theory

of dāna holds that “religious gifts flow upward to superior beings”, while “royal gifts flow

down a hierarchy of dependency”.5 This opposition between sacred and temporal exchange

arises from the duties prescribed to the Brahmin and Kshatriya castes in the dharmaśās-

tra. Kshatriyas are obliged to study the Vedas, to offer sacrifices, and to give gifts. On the

other hand, Brahmins are required to teach the Veda to other Kshatriya, to officiate at their

sacrifices, and to receive gifts from them.6 The Brahmin is the unique recipient of dāna;

indeed it is his natural duty to receive gifts. Yet, this does not mean that he is a willing

recipient. The gift itself is a paradox, a ‘danger’ to the Brahmin because it threatens his

spiritual authority. The theory of the gift states that dāna is an extension of the giver.7 The

gift is, therefore, also governed by the theory of ritual pollution, and as an extension of the

giver, it is suffused with his qualities. In this way, the exchange of gifts is not a neutral

transaction devoid of consequences. “The bodily extensions of inferior beings are danger-

ously polluting to superiors, but conversely those of superiors ... are concrete forms of grace

(prasāda) to inferiors”.8 When a Brahmin receives a gift, he also receives the pollution of

Trautmann, Dravidian Kinship, 285.
Ibid., 280.
Ibid., 286.
Ibid., 287.

the donor that is transmitted through the gift. Thus, the domain of ‘exchange’ is propped

up through the contest between purity and impurity. The ‘danger’ inherent the exchange,

or the “poison in the gift”9 also propagates the ‘conundrum’. The Brahmin consecrates the

royal order of the king and the king supports the material requirements of the Brahmin. But,

the king’s gift is “a danger” to the Brahmin because it is “a bodily extension of the donor,

which because the donor is by definition an inferior, is defiling to him and diminishes his

spiritual luster, tejas, so painfully acquired and so easily drained away”.10

Having established the basis of the tension between the Brahmin and king, let us briefly

evaluate its presence in the formation of the pañjī prabandha. Hearing of the crisis pre-

sented by actions that may diminish the status and purity of Brahmins, the king steps in to

restore order. He mandates a genealogical survey of Brahmins and requires that all Brah-

min marriages be performed under authorization of the king. Herein lies the puzzle. The

Brahmin is the spiritual authority, but his life is being regulated by the temporal power of

the king. However, as the crisis in the Brahmin community has the potential to disrupt

spiritual authority, the king is required to intervene in order to save it. The contest between

spiritual power and temporal authority is more evident in the second legend. The king held

a feast for Brahmins, but the most virtuous Brahmins prioritize their spiritual obligations

over the temporal authority of the king. The thirteen Brahmins, who arrive last after hav-

ing performed the complete schedule of rituals, indicate their preference for spiritual power

explicitly by prioritizing it over the temporal privilege of dining with the king. Neverthe-

Raheja, Poison in the Gift, 32.
Trautmann, Dravidian Kinship, 287.

less, it is the king who exhibits higher authority over the Brahmins. He declares them the

best of Brahmins and confers upon them the status of Shrotriya. In doing so, he introduces

an internal hierarchy within the Brahmin community that henceforth orders social and kin-

ship interactions between Brahmins. The contest between priestly and kingly authority in

these two legends ultimately support the classical Indian notion of the relationship between

brahma and kṣatra.

5.2 Tensions of Kingship and Kinship

While the pañjī prabandha was originally focused on the order of the general Brahmin

community, with the involvement of the Brahmin-king, it began over time to focus mostly

on the highest strata of brahminical society, the Shrotriyas. As evidenced by the restructur-

ing of the śākhā pañjī by the founder of the Khandavala dynasty, the relationship between

the Brahmin king and his non-royal Brahmin kinsmen became the dominating focus of the

pañjī system. The continued involvement of the Brahmin king in the genealogical system

resulted in a replication of the competition between brahma and kṣatra that is internalized

within the Brahmin caste itself.

The mutual reinforcement of Shrotriya social structure and kinship practices led to sev-

eral conflicts between the king and his Shrotriya kinsmen that began in the 18th century.

U. N. Jha’s assertion that modern ideas promoted by either the king or the Shrotriyas were

powerless against the hold of tradition is exemplified in two cases. Tradition states that

during the 18th century, the increasing military duties of the Brahmin kings distressed the


As explained briefly in chapter four, Narendra Singh (r. 1743–1760) fought a battle

in which he killed Raja Rama Narayana, a Bhumihar Brahmin. Although he fought the

battle in order to protect the interests of the Khandavala estate, the Brahmin community

levied charges of brahmahatya, of the murder of a Brahmin, against him. The Shrotriya

community expressed their displeasure by effectively excommunicating the maharaja in by

preventing any future social or marital relationships with his lineage.11 They did so by leav-

ing Tirhut and seeking refuge with the Shrotriya ruler Indranarayana Singh of the Pahsara

estate in Purnea. This Shrotriya ruler belonged to the Suragana mūla. The migration of

the Shrotriyas resulted in the severence of social relationships between Shrotriyas and the

Khandavala lineage. After Narendra Singh passed, his adopted son Pratap Singh took over

as ruler of Tirhut. After the Pratap Singh’s half-brother Madhava Singh (r. 1775–1807)

took control of the Khandavala rulership in 1775, the relationship between the Khandavala

house and the Shrotriyas had begun to improve. Narendra Singh had died without produc-

ing a son, so the taint of brahmahatya had passed with him. Pratap Singh was adopted from

a different Khandavala branch and his lineage did not have the same sitgma as the previous

royal lineage. On account of this, Madhava Singh was able to convince the Shrotriyas to

return to Tirhut from Purnea. Shrotriya Brahmins back to Darbhanga by giving them land

grants. On account of the absence of Shrotriya families, Madhava Singh had taken a high-

ranking Yogya bride, which meant that the prince had a reduced laukika status. Thus, the
Mishra, Shrotriyas of Mithila, 22.

king had brought the Shrotriyas back in order to establish a group that could marry with his

lineage and preserve its Shrotriya lineage.12

The censure of Narendra Singh by the Shrotriya clans is one of several instances where

spiritual authority and temporal power clashed within the Shrotriya community. But, the

ability of the Maharaja of Darbhanga to appease the Shrotriyas shows the mutually rein-

forcing relationship of the two. Furthermore, the return of the Shrotriyas to Darbhanga also

shows how the king was able to further consolidate control over them. The Brahmin-king

became the head of the Shrotriyas during the reign of Madhava Singh. As Madhava Singh

had brought them back from Purnea and settled them in Darbhanga, they entrusted him with

protection of the Shrotriya community.13 Important matters would be discussed in a sabha

‘council’, while the king was given discretion in handling routine matters. It appears that up

until the time of Madhava Singh, a caste council assisted the king with matters related to the

regulation of pañjī, but for reasons unknown, the “community bestowed entire authority”

upon the king.14

The legend of the militaristic Maithil Brahman king who faced the censure of the Shrotriya

clans is one of several instances where spiritual authority and temporal power clashed within

the Shrotriya community. The Brahmin-king also exerted his control over Shrotriyas us-

ing exchange relations to settle disputes. The last king of Darbhanga, Kameshwar Singh,

challenged the orthodoxy and insularity of his community several times. The first was in

October 1930, when he travelled to London to attend the first session of the Round Ta-

Brown, “Raja and Rank,” 766.
Mishra, Shrotriyas of Mithila, 23.
Jha, Genealogies and Genealogists of Mithila, 78.

ble Conference on Indian constitutional reform. When he returned in the early months of

1931, a major section of the Shrotriya community declared that the Maharaja had outcasted

himself by crossing the oceans and they challenged his authority as head of the community

(Henningham: 134). Kameshwar Singh responded to his critics by saying that had trav-

elled to London for the general welfare of the community and to seek its advancement. The

Shrotriyas would not accept this excuse on behalf of modernity and threatened to excom-

municate the king and withhold exchange relations. Kameshwar Singh retaliated by barring

the use of royal-owned resources to those who refused to dine with him. Once the Shrotriyas

realized that they would lose royal patronage, they reconsidered their threats (Henningham:

135). Yet, the acknowledgment was reciprocal: Kameshwar Singh contributed to the devel-

opment of projects dear to the Shrotriyas in exchange, such as scholarships for the study of

Sanskrit and the subsidization of literary and cultural endeavors. Thus, Kameshwar Singh

used his authority as head of the community to silence his critics.

The tension of the Brahmin-king ‘conundrum’ is sustained with great intensity through

the exchange practices between the royal and non-royal Shrotriya lineages. The Shrotriyas

are themselves divided into two groups: the Babuan ‘noble’ and the general Shrotriya Brah-

mins.15 The Babuans are Shrotriyas that belong to the royal lineage of Khandavala-Bhaura

and their descendents. They are not a separate endogamous group, but marry into Shrotriya

families. The special relationship between the king and the Shrotriyas is based upon ac-

tual kinship relations between the two authorities.16 Moreover, the king and the Shrotriyas

Jha, Genealogies and Genealogists of Mithila, 82.
Ibid., 74.

were in a “mutually beneficial relationship”, which was bounded by their shared Shrotriya

status and by their “separate interests”.17 The Shrotriyas were traditionally committed to

scholastic and religious activities, while the king was dedicated to the function of society

and support of the Shrotriyas. To the extent that the Brahmin-kings being functioning as

Kshatriya kings in relation to their Shrotriya brethren.

The Babuans are considered the “highest section of the community” and are “famous for

their aristocratic bearing”.18 The relationship between the Babuans and Shrotriyas is one of

mutual beneficience: “The Babuans cannot perform any ceremony without consulting their

Shrotriya relatives”.19 For example, Babuans do not perform the sacred thread ceremony

themselves, but invite Shrotriyas to perform it for them. Moreover, the Babuans “believe

that the Shrotriyas are of ideal conduct and ... only the latter could perform the Vedic rites

with perfection”.20 The Babuan in his royal function requires the assistance of spiritual

authorities, for the “Shrotriyas are the guide of the Babuans” and the latter is dependent upon

Shrotriyas, who “advis[e] him regarding his proper role in any ceremony or occasion”.21 In

this sense, the Brahmin kings and their families function socially as if they were Kshatriyas

and have ceremonies performed by Brahmins, namely their non-royal Shrotriya kinsmen.

The internalization of the tensions of the brahmin-king relationship affected how the

Shrotriya king interacted with other members of the Shrotiya community. Brown remarks

that when a Shrotriya agrees to dine with another, “he is doing them a great honor, because

Brown, “Raja and Rank,” 768.
Jha, Genealogies and Genealogists of Mithila, 82.
Ibid., 83.
Ibid., 84.
Ibid., 82.

he is humbling himself by accepting their hospitality”.22 This agreement to dine hinges upon

theories of exchange, which hold that the rank of a Brahmin determines his willingness

to accept gifts. This plays out in the Brahmin-king relationship among the Shrotriyas in

several ways. Brown reports that there is a superior Shrotriya lineage that “has for decades

refused to visit Darbhanga, where they might have to accept the hospitality of the Maharaja

of Darbhanga, who is slightly inferior to them”.23 This relationship was further promoted by

a tension, which hinged upon the Shrotriyas “forcing the maharajas to support the system

through their threat of withdrawal from exchange relations, and the king enforcing it through

his personal, centralized control of all marriages”.24 Both the king and the Shrotriyas abided

by the pañjī system from fear of social exclusion, which gave such power to the tension

that “[e]ven those who are influenced by modern ideas of casteless and classless society

could not succeed if they tried to break the traditional institution”.25 Although both the

royal and non-royal Shrotriya lineages belong to the same sub-caste, the presence of the

king within the Shrotriya grade had the effect of recreating the tension between Brahmins

and Kshatriyas within the Brahmin caste.

5.3 King’s Control of Lineage Rank

The Brahmin king not only manipulated the pañjī system in order to maintain his position

as the head of the social order, but he further used the lineage rank structure of the system

Brown, “The Gift of a Girl,” 58.
Brown, “Raja and Rank,” 768.
Jha, Genealogies and Genealogists of Mithila, 166.

in order to maintain his primacy in the political order. One way in which genealogy was

used to reorder the political system was to eliminate political rivals of the lineage belong-

ing to the royal house. Despite the rise of the Khandavala lineage in the political structure

of Mithila, the old royal family of the Oinivara dynasty had not been fully extinguished.

Competing narratives state that the founder of the Khandavala dynasty had to contest for

the sarkār of Tirhut with scions of the Oinivara house. The very nature of dueling claims to

the throne of Mithila by the Oinivara and Khandavala families reveals another political di-

mension of the pañjī system. In addition to regulating affinal relationships of the Shrotriya

in order to preserve their ritual purity, the pañjī system also provided a way for the king to

eliminate adversaries from within the Maithil Brahmin community. Moreover, the contest

between the Oinivara and Khandavala houses speaks to the manner in which the organiza-

tional structure of the Maithils not only preserved the community as a whole, but also led

to internal fractures.

Upon review of a farman granted by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, and the genealogy

that accompanies it, Hetukar Jha states that it was the Oinivara clan who “continued to

possess the royalty even after the Mughal empire was inaugurated on Indian soil”, despite

the traditional account that the Oinivaras had been deposed and replaced by the Khandavala

dynasty.26 Some scholars claim that it was not until Alivardi Khan granted the title of rājā

to Maharaja Raghava Singh in 1735 that the first official evidence of Khandavala rulership

exists.27 While historical evidence contradicts the traditional legends regarding the claims

Jha, “Oinwaras,” 146.
Jha, “Oinwaras,” 148; Choudary, History of Khandavala, 142.

to the throne of Tirhuta by the Oinivara and Khandavala dynasty, the ultimate victory of the

Khandavala dynasty over the Oinivara suggests that there was a contest for temporal power

within the Brahmin community that was decided through the pañjī system.

Through the reorganization of lineages carried out five generations after the institution

of the pañjī system, the Khandavala dynasty founded by Mahesh Thakur secured its future

authority once and for all by naming itself as the only Shrotriya lineage of the Khandavala

mūla and classifying the remaining thirty-five as Yogya status. The reduction in status of

potential competitors from the same lineage essentially removed the newly Yogya-graded

Khandavala mūla-s from the marriage orbits of Shrotriyas and cast a social blemish upon

them. However, that was not all. Mahesh Thakur not only modified the rank and status of

his kinsmen, he took steps to further consolidate the power of the one remaining Shrotriya

Khandavala mūla by eliminating the Shrotriya status of political rivals. He did so by re-

ducing the status of the Oini mūla. In the pañjī prabandha, the Oini clan of Kameshvar

Thakur was classified by Harisimhadeva as belonging to the Shrotriya grade.28 After the

reorganization, the Oini lineage not only lost the majority of their land holdings,29 they also

lost their status in the pañjī records as they fell from the high ranks of the Shrotriyas and

were classified as a minor Yogya lineage.30 In this way the Brahmin king prohibited the

members of a distant, but competing royal lineage from laying future claim to the kingship

of Mithila. By removing them from the ranks of the Shrotriyas down to an unimportant

Yogya family with little material influence, he effectively prohibited them from social and

Thakur, Medieval Mithila, 293.
Jha, “Oinwaras,” 146–147.
Brown, “Raja and Rank,” 765.

marital interactions with Shrotriyas. Moreover, the king eliminated any likelihood of future

patronage of the Oini lineage by the Khandavala royal house and secured the prominence

of his own lineage.

The reorganization of the genealogical system to promote the royal lineage had a sig-

nificant effect on the organization of the pañjī records themselves. The śākhā pañjī, or the

lineage record, was revised to focus solely upon the one remaining Shrotriya lineage of the

Khandavala mūla, the lineage of the Bhaura grāma to which the kings of this dynasty be-

longed. It provides details on the ancestry of the most important Shrotriya lineages and their

relationships with the royal Khandavala-Bhaura lineage.31 The revision of the śākhā pañjī

to reflect only the royal lineage of a particular mūla further reveals how the brahminical

genealogy system was manipulated to maintain the position of the Brahmin-king.

5.4 King’s Control of Individual Rank

The Shrotriyas are ranked into avadata “pure” and loka ‘common’ ranks. The loka Shrotriyas

are further ranked by their placement in a śreṇī ‘class’. The creation of the śreṇī sub-

ordering system in the 19th century is another example of how the identities of individual

Brahmins were shaped by the pañjī prabandha. The need for re-structuring the grading

system was caused by marriages between the grades. This led to a system in which ranks

were falling and the Shrotriya grade was in danger of becoming extinct. A system was de-

veloped by which all Srotriyas were assigned to one of eight sub-ranks within their grade.

As several individuals from a particular lineage fell into the same sub-ranks, a label called
Saraswati, “Institution of Pañjī,” 270.

a laukita, also known as an individual’s pañjī or painj in colloquial Maithili, as assigned to

each individual in the rank.

One manner in which the Brahmin-king affected Shrotriya identity was through his au-

thority to assess their status. When the internal rank system was established by Harisimhadeva,

out of the 180 brahmin lineages recorded in the genealogists, only 13 were deemed as

Shrotriyas, 20 as Yogyas. In the 16th century, during the reign of the first Khandavala

ruler, it was discovered that marriages were not exclusively being conducted within the

endogamous grades. The system encouraged rank endogamy, but given the limited pool

of marriage partners within the Shrotriya fold, Shrotriyas began to contract marriages with

Yogyas, the second grade within the hierarchy The result was that Shrotriya lineages were

downgraded to such an extent that it nearly resulted in the extinction of the grade.32 As the

crisis of endogamy accelerated and further affected the existence of the Shrotriyas, a new

system of rank was imposed by Maharaja Mahesh Thakur in order to classify the offspring

born of unions between Shrotriyas and Yogyas. The new rank system incorporated these

half-Shrotriyas into the Shrotriya fold, but distinguished them from Shrotriyas who were

avadata, or ‘pure’. The result was the expansion of the Shrotriya community and the estab-

lishment of a precedent for inducting a new member into the group, who was not born into


As the crisis of endogamy accelerated and further affected the Shrotriyas, a new ranking

system was imposed in order to classify the offspring born of unions between Shrotriyas

and Yogyas. Initially, all Shrotriyas were known as avadata ‘pure’, as were the children
Brown, “Raja and Rank,” 59.

of a Shrotriya union. As Shrotriya men began to marry Yogya women, the offspring of the

union were permitted to retain the Shrotriya status of their father, but on account of their

mother’s Yogya status, they were not considered ‘pure’ Shrotriyas, but were instead called

loka ‘common’, and were given a status lower than that of their fathers. A sub-system

was introduced within the mūla-grāma structure in order to manage the presence of these

loka Shrotriyas. All the Shrotriya lineages were reclassified and ranked on a grade internal

to the sub-caste, which was known as the laukika ‘common’ system.33 This new system

introduced an involutionary means of determining rank. The laukika status of a Shrotriya is

based upon the laukika status of the maternal grandfather. If an individual is born to parents

bearing the same laukika status, his laukika status is that of his father. However, if its parents

belong to different laukika statuses, then the son is assigned the lower laukika, that being

of his grandfather. Only a Shrotriya has a laukika; if a Shrotriya marries a non-Shrotriya,

the offspring loses Shrotriya status entirely. But, soon after the implementation of this

system, the laukit titles were themselves in disarray. In 1897, Maharaja Rameshwar Singh

asked the genealogists to resolve the issue, which they did by classifying all existing laukit

ranks into seven grades called śreṇī ‘class’.34 Both the laukit and śreṇī sub-systems of rank

were introduced specifically to manage the involution of the Shrotriya grade. Certainly, the

continuing decline of pure Shrotriyas presented a danger to the Brahmin order as individuals

were not only failing to conduct themselves according to dharma, but the very purity of

individuals was also fading through offspring being born of mixed grades.

The laukika designation is also referred to as ‘laukit’ by Brown and others. The chapa from 1905 and
the ranks of the Yogyas published by Rameshwar Singh refer to the titles as laukika, so I adopt that spelling.
Mishra, Shrotriyas of Mithila, 50; Brown, “Raja and Rank,” 767.

5.5 The King and His Marriage

By the “virtue of the authority vested in him” the Brahmin king could elevate the rank of

any Brahmin.35 The well-known example is the is the raising of the Phanandah mūla to

Yogya status. Carolyn Brown cites two cases in which the king used the śreṇī system more

to protect the kingship than to manage the Brahmin community. These cases concern the

status and marriage of the last king of Darbhanga, Maharaja Kameshwar Singh. Before

he took the throne in 1929, Kameshwar Singh belonged not to the highest śreṇī, but to

the second highest rank. This was the result of his father, Maharaja Rameshwar Singh

having married Shrotriya women of low śreṇī rank. In order to raise the status of the prince,

Kameshwar Singh was raised from the second śreṇī rank of his mother to the bottom of the

first śreṇī, where he was still lower in rank to fifty Shrotriyas. Kameshwar Singh’s wife

was given special laukika status and her śreṇī rank was also raised.36 The change of status

of both Kameshwar Singh and his queen would ensure that his offspring would not drift too

far in terms of rank. In this way, a future heir would be a suitable match for daughters of

the fifty highly-ranked Shrotriyas. Kameshwar Singh, however, could not produce an heir

with his Shrotriya wife. In the 1930s, he decided to take a second wife in hopes of doing so.

Rather than choose another Shrotriya wife as bride and second queen, Kameshwar Singh

set his eyes upon the daughter of an influential Yogya family. There were two problems

with this arrangement: His marriage to a Yogya would require special permission and going

through with the ceremony might force distance between the king and other Shrotriyas. The

Thakur, History of Mithila, 35.
Brown, “Raja and Rank,” 769.

first problem was quickly resolved. Since the king was the final judge on all marriages, he

naturally had the right to authorize his own marriage. The second problem was solved by

promoting the immediate male members of the Yogya bride’s family to low śreṇī Shrotriya

status and bringing other Shrotriyas to dine with them.37

5.6 Internalizing the Conundrum

The twining of dharma ‘order’ and dāna ‘exchange’ offers the prospect of imagining that an

individual who is a Brahmin functioning as a king might unite spiritual authority and tem-

poral power, in effect neutralizing the ‘conundrum’. This harmony of brahma and kṣatra

would appear to enable the Brahmin king to adjudicate both the socio-political and religious

orders without the complications inherent in the relationship between Brahmin and king.

The ‘conundrum’ might then be resolved. After all, the Brahmin king promotes dharma

and preserves it because his own spiritual authority consecrates his temporal power. As a

Brahmin, the dāna the Brahmin-king might receive from other Brahmins is infused with

the bodily extensions of other Brahmins, and may theoretically be, of no danger to him, as

would be the gifts he might give to other Brahmins.

However, rather than equalize the tension, the fusion of brahma and kṣatra within the

Brahmin-king simply shifts the locus of the ‘conundrum’ from the inter-caste level to the

intra-caste domain. The internalization of the tension offers a new perspective on Traut-

mann’s ‘conundrum’. As the preceding examples show, the emergence of a Brahmin-king

revolutionized Shrotriya ‘self-hood’ and ‘subjectivity’ by introducing into the exchange re-
Brown, “Raja and Rank,” 770.

lationship between king and brahmin the most important and potentially ‘dangerous’ form

of gift: kanyādāna ‘gift of a maiden’. Of the eight forms of marriage recognized by the

smr̥ti-s and other authoritative digests, the brahminical preference for acquiring brides is

kanyādāna. In this form of marriage, a girl is given as a bride without expectation of reci-

procity. She is incorporated into the family of the groom and inserted anonymously into

his agnatic history by acquiring the gotra ‘patrilineal clan’ designation of her husband and

relinquishing that of her father’s lineage. In kanyādāna, the bride “is given absolutely” and

is “conceptually assimilated to her husband, constituting his other half (aparārdha) and so

rendering him complete and capable of offering sacrifice”.38 As such, the gift of a bride ad-

heres to the theory of dharmadāna ‘pious gift’ and aligns with the appropriate directionality

of exchange. As religious gifts are given upwards in a social hierarchy, so must daughters

be “given up (anuloma) rather than down (pratiloma)”.39 The bride is, then, a potentially

‘dangerous’ gift because she is given upwards and is an extension of the giver, her fam-

ily. She may affect not only the purity of her husband through her conceptual assimilation

to him, but because she constitutes his other half, the purity of his lineage rests upon her


Trautmann, Dravidian Kinship, 291.

5.7 Sustaining the ‘Conundrum’

Maharaja Rameshwar Singh, the father of Maharaja Kameshwar Singh, delivered a presi-

dential address at the All-India Hindu Religious Sammelan at Hardiwar on April 10, 1915,

in which he stated:

It is a matter of the highest importance to any society that it should organize itself into a
body politic, with a living centre, round which the whole fabric of society must gather,
for the upkeep and uplift of the society as a whole. That centre, according to Hindu
notions, is the King, without whom the fabric goes to pieces. Just as in the organization
of the universe, there is a divine centre from which all law proceeds, making for an
orderly evolution of the universe, so in human society, the king is a centre from whom
all law proceeds and that gives rise to an orderly evolution of society.40

He concluded his description of the importance of the king in Hindu society by quoting

the Vasiṣṭha Dharmasūtra, stating “[t]he King is always pure and whatever his birth may

be, while doing kingly duty, he is a Brahmana”.41 Rameshwar Singh certainly chose the

right words to describe the centrality of the king in the ordering of the universe; being that

he was also a Shrotriya Brahmin trained in Sanskrit. Drawn from a treatise on Hindu law,

Rameshwar Singh’s conclusion that a king is a Brahmin while ‘doing kingly duty’ strikes

at the heart of the Brahmin and Brahmin-king relationship. When Kameshwar Thakur first

began ‘doing kingly duty’ in 1353, the Brahmins of Mithila had within their midst a royal

family, which despite their Brahmin status began to function as Kshatriyas. This event

offers a new perspective on Trautmann’s ‘conundrum’ of the Brahmin-King relationship.

Trautmann stated the relationship between spiritual authority (brahma) and temporal power

Rameshwar Singh, “Presidential Address at Hardwar All-India Hindu Religious Sammilan, 10 April
1915,” 65.
Ibid., 66.

(kṣatra) rests upon the question of whether the Brahmin is superior to the king or dependent

upon him. The tension between the Brahmin’s simultaneous superiority and dependence

arises from the contradiction that temporal power originates from spiritual power, but that

spiritual power is sustained through temporal power.

As discussed in this essay, the relationship between Brahmin and king in Mithila is made

more complicated by the kinship practices that connect the Brahmin to the king. To be sure,

the unity of brahma and kṣatra through the idiom of kinship pervades Vedic political philos-

ophy. In a monograph on spiritual power and temporal authority, Ananda Coomaraswamy

wrote that “the whole of Indian political theory is implied and subsumed in the words of the

marriage formula in the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa: ‘I am That, thou art This, I am sky, thou art

Earth’”, addressed by the Brahmin to the king.42 Coomaraswamy follows by declaring that

“Peace and prosperity, and a fulness of life in every sense of the words, are the fruit of the

‘marriage’ of the Temporal Power to the Spiritual Authority”.43 The kinship metaphor in the

relationship between Brahmin and the king becomes complete when we consider the Vedic

notions of the origin of brahma and kṣatra. A passage from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad

states that “the brahman is the womb of the kṣatra”, but although the Kshatriya attains the

highest status through the rājasūya ‘royal consecration’, “he finally rests on the brahman,

his own womb”.44 Thus, there is a fundamental unity of temporal power and spiritual power,

which is exemplified in the case of the Brahmin-king of Mithila, where the highest Brahmin

is also the most powerful Kshatriya.

Coomaraswamy, Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power in the Indian Theory of Government, 1.
Ibid., 69.
Heesterman, “Power, Priesthood, and Authority,” 142.

The merger of the institutions of kinship and kingship in 14th century Mithila produced

a unique circumstance that held sway for six-hundred years. The case of brahminical king-

ship in Mithila is unique because it was regulated by kinship practices and a genealogical

system implemented by a Kshatriya for ordering Brahmins, which came to be regulated by a

Brahmin. It should be stated that Brahmins serving as kings in Mithila is not an uncommon

phenomenon in Indian history. The Shungas were a Brahmin family that served as officials

to the Mauryas. They became the successors of the Mauryan dynasty after Pushyamitra,

the commander of the Mauryan army, assassinated the last Mauryan king and usurped the

throne.45 Indian notions of kingship in fact, do not prevent a Brahmin from becoming king.

The Mahābhārata permits any able leader “to be made king when there is a mixture of or-

ders and when barbarians are threatening”.46 Thus, the placement of Kameshvar Thakur on

the throne of his former patron Harisimhadeva by a Turkic sultan after the devastation of

the Karnata dynasty by ‘barbarian’ invaders upholds the regulation provided by the Mahāb-

hārata. The coronation of a Brahmin king followed the arrival of Turkic dynasties in north

India, which truncated the Hindu social order, such that kings were eliminated and Brah-

mins were appointed as head of the political order.

5.8 Conclusion

Tradition holds that Harisimhadeva ordered the genealogical regulation of marriages on the

grounds of “encourag[ing] religious observances amongst the people to show that in this

Thapar, Early India, 210.
Scharfe, The State in Indian Tradition, 57.

world and especially so in Mithila — the country of the Janakas, the king initiates — spiri-

tualism should be the ideal of every man”.47 The reference to King Janaka, a mythical king

of Mithila, signifies that Harisimhadeva was undertaking a reorganization of the Brahmin

community in order to emulate the ideal of a philosopher-king: a Kshatriya devoted not only

to the preservation of the temporal aspects of his realm, but to the spiritual aspects as well,

which are to be preserved and promoted by Brahmins. The king ordered that all marriages

must be certified by an authorized genealoger, who was appointed by the king. The pañjī

system survived for four hundred years because it was patronized by the kings of Mithila.

However, the king’s role in the regulation of marriage became stronger after the rise of the

Khandavala dynasty. While all Brahmin marriages were required to be authorized by the

genealogist, marriages involving members of the Shrotriya sub-caste required the special

permission of the king. Thus, the king became an important gatekeeper in the brahminical

kinship system.

The legend regarding the origin of the three grades of Maithil Brahmins suggests that

Harisimhadeva classified Brahmins by rank according to their conduct. By the time of

Rameshwar Singh, the king’s authority to classify Brahmins was no longer based upon the

individual conduct of an individual, but upon the desires of the king. Rameshwar Singh’s

creation of the śreṇī rank sub-system is but one example of how brahminical genealogy was

expanded in order to incorporate the king into the brahmincal social order. The Brahmin

king transformed notions of Brahmin identity in north Bihar by binding Brahmin kinship to

kingship. What was initially an institution established by a Kshatriya for the preservation
Thakur, Medieval Mithila, 11–12.

of Brahmins had evolved under the control of the Brahmin-king into an instrument used by

a single Brahmin for preserving both his status as a functional Kshatriya and as a Shrotriya

Brahmin. The Brahmin-king changed Shrotriya identity in north Bihar in two ways: First,

he bound Shrotriyas to him through the potentiality of kinship. Second, he transformed

Shrotriya identity by expanding the basis for Shrotriya status from a solely ascriptive iden-

tity gained by the rather involuntary act of birth into a prescriptive potential, or an identity

that could be conferred or stripped by the Brahmin-king.

Śreṇī Rank Laukit Mūla-Grāma
Prathama 1 Rāmadeva Miśra Sadarapuriye Raiyāma
2 Dāmū Jhā Maḍare Sihaul
3 Pitāmbara Jhā (baṛakā) Maḍare Sihaul
4 Daśaratha Miśra Ekahare Rucaula
5 Rudrapati Jhā Baliyāse Māḍara
6 Śaṅkara Rāya Baliyāse Māḍara
7 Pitāmbara Jhā (choṭakā) Maḍare Siraul
8 Mādhava Miśra —

Dvitīya 1 Jīvanātha Jhā Darihare Rataulī

2 Hr̥dayanātha Jhā Darihare Rataulī
3 Nainana Jhā Sarisabe Khāṅgura
4 Pāṇi Jhā —
5 Suragaṇa (baṛakā) Surgaṇe Loāma
6 Vīra Ṭhākura Khaṛaure Bhaura
7 Bhikhārī Jhā Palivāra Mahiṣī

Tr̥tīya 1 Jagadīśa Miśra Baliyāse Narasāma

2 Motī Jhā Palivāra Maṅgraunī

Caturtha 1 Bholana Jhā Pagulavāra Bāṛhiyāma

2 Suragaṇa (choṭakā) Surgaṇa Loāma
3 Hāṛī Jhā Maḍare Sihaul
4 Kamala Jhā Khoāre Nāhasa

Pañcama 1 Cāna Jhā Sarisave Khāṃgura

2 Lacchū Pāṭhaka Palivāra Divarā
3 Mādhava Miśra Baliyāse Narasāma
4 Sabandhu Jhā Tisaute Kuā
5 Narapati Jhā Sakaribāra Lohanā
6 Gonū Miśra Sadara Burire Kaṭakā
7 Bhaiyana Jhā Buddhavāre Ḍumarā
8 Bhañjana Jhā Sarisave Vaghavāsa
9 Nilāmbara Miśra Baliyāse Narasāma
10 Hemāṅgada Rāya Baliyāse Māḍara

Ṣaṣṭama 1 Nagara Koṭa Phandahavāra Khanāma

2 Sihavāra Didhave Sandapura
3 Kanta Jhā Bamaniyiyāme Kaṭamā

Sāptama 1 Amauna Buddhavāre Mahiṣī

2 Mahādeva Jhā Baliyāse Viṭaula
3 Puruṣottama Miśra Hariyame Śivā

Table 5.1: Shrotriya Shrenis with the Laukit and Mula-grama

Śreṇī Rank Laukit Mūla-Grāma
Prathama 1 Narapati Jhā Sakarivāra Lohanā
2 Mādhava Miśra Baliyāse Narasāya
3 Gonū Jhā Sadarapuriye Kaṭakā
4 Bhaiyan Jhā Buddhavāre Ḍumarā
5 Mañjana Jhā Sarisave Vaghavāsa
6 Nilāmbara Miśra Baliyāse Narasāya
7 Nandan Jhā —
8 Kariye Jhā —
9 Kanta Jhā Sinhavāra
10 Sivāī —

Dvitīya 1 Padūma Jhā Satalakhe Sataula

2 Śrīkānta Jhā Sakarivāra Bharaulī
3 Maniārī —
4 Bandhu Miśra —
5 Amona Buddhavāre Mahiṣī
6 Khuśihāla Miśra Baliyāse Narasāya
7 Mahadeva Jhā Baliyāse Biṭhaulī
8 Parmānanda Chaudharī —
9 Kamala Nayana Pāṭhaka —
10 Gonū Jhā —

Tr̥tīya 1 Ghanānanda Jhā Buddhavāre Ḍumarā

2 Gaṇapati Miśra Baliyāse Narasāya
3 Jīvakaraṇa Miśra Palivāra Samaula
4 Dhāre Jhā —
5 Murārī Miśra Yajuāre Jamunī
6 Devānanda Jhā —
7 Prāṇa Miśra —
8 Śūlapāṇi Jhā Palivāra Haripura

Caturtha 1 Bharāma —
2 Basantapura Maḍare Haripura
3 Prabhākara Chaudharī —
4 Choṭī Jhā Paṛarue Mahindro
5 Kokaṛihire —
6 Sakhuā Satalakhe Sataula
7 Pakaṛī —
8 Pratihasta Khauāre Nāhasa
9 Narahā Satalake Sataula
10 Mahatū Pāṭhaka Baghaniyāme Karaiyāina
11 Śilānātha —
12 Śūlapāṇi Jhā —

Table 5.2: Yogya Shrenis with the Laukit and Mula-grama

Śreṇī Rank Laukit Mūla-Grāma
Pañcama 1 Harinārāyaṇa Ṭhakura —
2 Sakhuā (choṭkā) Satalakhe Sataula
3 Tulā Pāṭhaka Baliyāse Narasāya
4 Nityānanda Chaudharī Aṛaivāra Premgaṛh
5 Baṭāī Miśra —
6 Meharamāna Ṭhakura —
7 Ehu —
8 Khageśa Jhā —
9 Khuṭauniyā —

Ṣaṣṭama 1 Tārāpati Jhā —

2 Goī Miśra Sadarpuriye Sukheta
3 Ballī Chaudharī ??ni Vatsavāra
4 Muralī Jhā —
5 Madan Miśra Hariyame Rakhavārī
6 Lakṣmīpati Miśra Kodariye Pacāṛhī
7 Viśvanātha Jhā —
8 Līlā Miśra —

Sāptama 1 Badatī Jhā —

2 Hiradī Jhā —
3 Viśvāmbara Chaudharī —
4 Vaṃśī Chaudharī —
5 Baraunī Maḍare Sakurī
6 Ḍaṇḍapāṇi Jhā Sakarivāra Bataila
7 Jarasaina —
8 Sudhākara Jha —
9 Jaduni Jha —
10 Maṭaru Jha —

Aṣṭama 1 Bodhakr̥ṣṇa Jhā —

2 Vīra Jhā —
3 Mālāpura —
4 Nareśa Jhā Palivāra ???pura
5 Kanta Jhā Maḍare Kanasama
6 Pati Jhā Hariame Rakhavārī
7 Mogalāhā Ekahore Orā
8 Gatirāma Jha —
9 Pratāpa Nārāyaṇa —
10 Oinī —

Table 5.2: Yogya Shrenis with the Laukit and Mula-grama (continued)

Śreṇī Rank Laukit Mūla-Grāma
Navama 1 Ratikar Jhā —
2 Jhañjhārapura Maḍare Jagaura
3 Arkapura —
4 Kauśikīdatta Jhā Belauce Kako
5 Mahidhara Miśra Ṭakavāla
6 Guṇī Jhā Sakarāṛhī
7 Maheśhpura Belauce Ratuvāra
8 Hālo Hariame Āhīla
9 Mahidhara Jhā —
10 Nāro Jhā —
11 Becū Jhā —

Daśama 1 Kanhaulī Sakarivāra Chājana

2 Macalī Miśra —
3 Viṣṇudattapura —
4 Dharādhara Chaudharī —
5 Cīrā Miśra —
6 Rudra Nārāyaṇa —
7 Lakṣmī Nārāyaṇa —
8 Bharagāma Pālī
9 Bhavana Jhā —
10 Nityānanda Kujaulī Kujalivāra ??giyā
11 Khauāla Kauśikīdatta Jhā —
12 Cakrapāṇi Chaudharī —
13 Bindhī Mahādeva Jhā —
14 Paduma Jhā —

Ekadaśama 1 Rasika Nārāyaṇa Jhā —

2 Bhūkhanī Jhā —
3 Sāgarapura Naraune Ojhau??
4 Cāna Pāṭhaka —
5 Baherī —
6 Khajurī —
7 Taraunī Baliyāse Sakurī
8 Harinagara Baliyāse Sakurī
9 Lāla Ṭhākura —
10 Andī Miśra —
11 Guṇānanda Jhā —
12 Bhakṣī —
13 Mohanā —
14 Muṛārī —
15 Saptā —
16 Beramā —-

Table 5.2: Yogya Shrenis with the Laukit and Mula-grama (continued)

Śreṇī Rank Laukit Mūla-Grāma
Dvadaśama 1 Nakaṭū Jhā —
2 Śaśibhūṣaṇa Jhā —
3 Nidhi Miśra —
4 Haridatta Ṭhākura Kharoṛe Khuṭṭī
5 Lāla Biharī Jhā —
6 Rohāra Sadarapuriye Rohara
7 Kachuā Sadarapuriye Rohara
8 Nehāla Chaudharī Jalāivāra Goraula
9 Umāī Miśra —
10 Ābhī Jhā —
11 Pheṭakaṭāī —
12 Aravinda Jhā —
13 Ucatī Prabhunātha Jhā —
14 Prītam Gosāīṃ —
15 Nadoraka Baliyāse Dharaurā

Traidaśama 1 Paṛaulī Narāona

2 Raṅka Jhā Narāona
3 Kolahaṭṭā —
4 Jālā —
5 Nāgadaha —
6 Mannurāma Jhā —
7 Raghupati Jhā Kusumbāla
8 Dhan-garvana —
9 Rāmanātha Pālī
10 Sarahada Māḍara

Caturdaśama 1 Ghasīrāma Chaudharī —

2 Bacanū Devāna —
3 Andī Phandaha —
4 Salaha Gaṇgolivāra Sakuri
5 Dhāru Ṭhākura —
6 Jalāṛha —
7 Jñānī-dhyānī —
8 Pati Ṭhākura —

Pañcadaśama 1 Kāla Ṭhākura —

2 Nīlāmbara Baliyāse
3 Nīlāmbara Chaudharī —
4 Katarū Ṭhākura —
5 Savaura —
6 Haradatta —

Table 5.2: Yogya Shrenis with the Laukit and Mula-grama (continued)


In the Linguistic Survey of India, George A. Grierson described Mithila as being “a land

under the domination of a sept of Brāhmaṇs extraordinarily devoted to the mint, anise, and

cumin of the law”.48 This dissertation suggests that this “devotion to the law’ may be a

consequence of a particular historical event that occurred in north Bihar in 1326: the estab-

lishment of pañjī prabandha. By the time Grierson arrived in India in 1872, the principles

of pañjī prabandha had governed the organizational structure and social ideology of this

‘sept of Brāhmaṇs’ in Mithila for five centuries, and it would continue to do so well into

the middle of the 20th century. I now raise the questions posed in this dissertation: Who

is a Maithil Brahmin and by what criteria is a Brahmin considered a ‘Maithil’? Like other

Brahmins, the Maithil Brahmin is associated with a branch of the Veda, of which two are

prevalent in Mithila. A Maithil Brahmin is either a Chāndoga, or follower of the Kauthuma

śākhā of the Sāmaveda, or a Vājasaneya, or follower of the Mādhyandina śākhā of the Ya-

jurveda. He belongs to one of twenty gotra-s, which in Mithila are assigned to the two

aforementioned Veda-s. One gotra is attached to the Sāmaveda and the remaining nineteen

to the Yajurveda. Through his gotra he shares affinity with those members of the other ten

Grierson, Linguistic Survey of India, vol. V, pt. II, 4.

gauḍa and drāviḍa Brahmins who also share descent from the same eponymous r̥ṣi ances-

tor. But, this affinity is restricted to the territory of Mithila on account of his association

with a mūla. This mūla is linked to the residence of his earliest known ancestor, his viji

purūṣa, within the territory situated in the region bounded to the north by the Himalayas, to

the south by the river Ganges, to the west by the river Gandak, and to the east by the river

Koshi. During the time of Harisimhadeva his ancestors were in Mithila and participated in

the genealogical census. As a result he is recorded in the pañjī, through which he is able

to determine all of his historical and contemporary relatives, and all of the partilines and

matrilines that converged through proper marriage at each successive generation resulting

in the production of the shared body, the Maithil Brahmin that he is.

This dissertation has attempted to show that the creation of the Maithil Brahmin commu-

nity was the result of a deliberate attempt to create a bounded community whose boundaries

were genealogical. The recasting of the Brahmin in medieval Mithila through the conver-

gence of genealogy, territory, kinship, in the regulation of the brahminical identity gave

rise to social and political structures that both institutionalized Brahmin identity within the

state and which relied upon the sanction of the state. The pañjī prabandha represents a

new aspect of the relationship between the state, kinship, and caste. The systemization of

genealogies and the appointment of officials entrusted with maintenance of the genealo-

gies bound caste and kinship with political authority and state bureaucracy. The motivation

of the king, as the embodiment of the state, to maintain the order of castes by regulating

marriage resulted in the establishing of a formal institution that collected, classified, and

verified kinship data in order to authorize marriages. Such a system not only expanded the

function of the state, but also expanded the importance of marriage in not only the social

organization of Brahmins, but also in maintaining the state.

The suggestion that birth and genealogies provide tangible means for identifying a Brah-

min seems to have caught the attention of the Brahmins and royal administrators in Mithila.

The ideological origins of pañjī prabandha are unknown, but it is tempting to contemplate

that the implementers of the system in 14th century Mithila drew inspiration from the new

definition of sapiṇḍa offered by Vijñāneśvara in the Mitākṣarā two centuries earlier. Ac-

ceptance of these views in Mithila is attested by the importance given to the concept of

a new ‘shared body’ known as ekaśarīrārambhakatā by the dharma scholars Caṇḍeśvara

and Maheśa Ṭhakkura. That the foundational legend of pañjī prabandha focuses upon a

breach of the sapiṇḍa rule, makes the possibility of such influence all the more tempting

to imagine. Moreover, four centuries later the works by Caṇḍeśvara and Maheśa Ṭhakkura

would be considered by Thomas Colebrooke as the basis for what the British called the

‘Mithila school of law’.49 It is equally tempting to see Kumārila Bhaṭṭa’s notions about

caste and cognition from the Tantravārttika being espoused in the Mitākṣarā, especially

since Vijñāneśvara was “a profound student of the Pūrvamīmāṁsā system”.50

I have aimed to explain the historical origins of the Maithila Brahmins and to under-

stand the ideological and social principles that distinguish this community from other Brah-

min communities. I demonstrate that pañjī prabandha resulted in the formal creation of

Rocher, “Schools of Hindu Law.”
Kane, History of Dharmaśāstra, vol. I, pt. II, 603.

the ‘Maithila’ community of Brahmins as an endogamous and territorially bounded jāti or

‘caste’ in which membership was regulated through marriage laws in accordance with ge-

nealogical records and ideologies regarding the personhood of a Brahmin. The establishing

of the Maithila Brahmins as a distinctive ‘caste’ community was predicated upon two fac-

tors. First, the pañjī prabandha codified a new lineage designation called the mūla. The

mūla is a lineage based upon the universal brahminical gotra affiliation, but it represents

the segment of a gotra that is local to Mithila. Secondly, the system mandated that mar-

riages be performed between individuals belonging to ‘registered’ mūla-s, with regard to

the new principle of mūla exogamy and the traditional prohibitions regarding consanguin-

ity enjoined by the legal digests. By limiting marriages to those individuals belonging to

mūla-s recognized in the genealogies, the pañjī system not only created the concept of a

‘Maithila’ community, but by establishing the geographical boundaries of the endogamous

group, it intrinsically defined the perimeters of the jāti. Moreover, through its regulation of

marriage the system implicitly controlled reproduction, and as a result it defined member-

ship in and expansion of the community. Therefore, while the Sahyādri Khaṇḍa indicates

that there was a sense that the ‘Maithilas’ were a distinctive regional community in the 11th

century, it was not until the implementation of pañjī prabandha in the 14th century that the

Brahmins of Mithila were truly established as an endogamous, territorial jāti of ‘Maithila


By the time Kameshwar Singh passed away in 1962, India had become an independent

nation in which kings and princes held onto no more than the passing loyalty of their for-

mer subjects, who like them, were now ordinary citizens of the Republic of India. Before

his death, Kameshwar Singh had granted whatever honorary powers remained with him to

his nephew. From 1962 until 1975 the prince continued to authorize marriages by granting

siddhānta to Shrotriya familes, but he “finally acceded to the view of many” that the pañjī

system was “archaic and counter to the interests of the future development of India and

Bihar”.51 The prince of Darbhanga renounced his authority as head of the community and

eliminated the differences between Shrotriya, Yogya, and Jayavar.52 Although Raj Darb-

hanga no longer exists, theoretically the tension still does. The Shrotriyas refuse to accept

anyone but the Maharaja of Darbhanga as their head..53 However, there is no Maharaja

at present. With the death of Maharaja Kameshwar Singh, the Shrotriya community was

left without a leader. The genealogical system implemented by Harisimhadeva in the 14th

century had been in operation for six-hundred years when it was finally abolished by the

same temporal authority that had introduced it: the king. Yet, the question still remains:

What happens to the dharma of Brahmins when there is no Kshatriya king to safeguard

it? The answer perhaps lies embedded in the paradoxical passage from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka

Upaniṣad. Although there is no king to keep them with the bounds of sacred law, the Brah-

mins still have their genealogies and now the burden of maintaining their proper caste and

kinship duties rests upon their own shoulders. The dharma of the Brahmin, then, “finally

rests on the brahman, his own womb”.

Brown, “Raja and Rank,” 775.
Mishra, Shrotriyas of Mithila, 167.


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